Twelve Minutes

         Brad massages the kink in his neck; an old rugby injury that flares again, whenever the temperature cools enough to harden a late afternoon slush into a splatter of hail; and pulls himself out from a strange dream that, in spite of his intentions, still presses like a heavy sheet wrapped around the living room sofa.

         He tries to shake the images from his mind; a loop of yellowed snapshots of some of his best tackle busts on the old pitch that would have been no more than his everyday stroll around a run down block of memories, except for a sad and brooding malevolence that is slowing down the loop and stealing from the snapshots what little color remains; a film on a white screen that is graying just a bit more with every repeat of the reel into the solid blackness in the theater.

         But the kink turns into a nasty spasm; and he cannot shake his head side to side, let alone arise from his tomb of feather downs and blankets. He has no choice but to lie there a while and listen to the hail punching into his concrete.

         A storm cloud passes overhead and momentarily submerges the universe; an existential reality that at this point in time extends from his mess of feather downs and blankets, through the shake, rattle, and roll of the sliding glass door on the other side of the living room, across the top of an empty swimming pool that is being filled by hail, and into a wavy fence draped by dead bougainvillea; into the darkness of a dense night; a lights’ out effect that means that the film is over and that the one remaining shmuck in the seats needs to drop his plastic Jumbo Coke and to shuffle back into a reality of dead stars dotting a paper sky.

         He looks at the digital clock that he had placed on his coffee table when he had opted to abandon his kitchen prep and to wink out for a couple of hours beneath a Casablanca wood ceiling fan that has not been operable since Ronald Reagan cupped his ear and acted as if he could not hear Sam Donaldson’s rants.

         It holds to the very end of 4:04 as if not wanting to press forward into an unknowable darkness; the last second of that minute seeming to stretch into an eternity that is about to be closed off from all future points in time; and finally it clicks over to the 4:05 that has been waiting patiently on the other side of an impassable divide for its chance to glare into this world through its eyes shaped as digital red numbers and in its body of wires and batteries encased in plastic.

         He feels a sudden jolt of excruciating pain, as if the spasm in his neck at once spreads to the rest of his body and excites every muscle and tendon into a mad scream. It recedes almost as immediately into a confused tantrum; a back and forth between pain and serenity that brings to mind a battered soul moving in and out of an out of body experience; and then finally settles into the sick in the stomach doldrums of a hangover from hell. Except that it is not a hangover really, because the taste of stale liquor is not there. Instead, there is a coppery taste and texture that brings to an uneven mind blood drying over cracked lips. 

         Brad senses that the 4:05 is focusing in on him; a monster with the three red eyes of 4 and 0 and 5; an earthy animal mind in a soul that is so mechanical as to be impervious to any pleas; a vicious predator unmoved by the wide open eyes and the trembling lips of a last moment prayer; and he wants to backhand the menace off of the coffee table and smash it into pieces with his seven iron.

         But he is too tired still; and that is a stupid thought, anyway; probably a bit of childish nonsense dredged up from what remains of his dream; or perhaps a bit of fear about what may be in store later this evening; and so he sinks back into his pillow and stares at the dead wood ceiling fan until the spasm subsides back into a dull kink in his neck that is quite irritating but at least manageable. 

         Surprisingly, that does not take too long. It has just clicked over to 4:07, when he feels well enough to lift his husky, old beef off of the living room sofa; a slow and heavy act not unlike an invisible crane lifting a slab of cold meat off of a sweat stained sofa and dragging it around the coffee table and over to the sliding glass door; a slow motion slide that ends with a pair of open lips, kissing the glass, and feeling each of the hail punches upon the other side of the glass, as if they are dagger thrusts against his gray teeth and into his dried up tongue.

         And yet the hail strikes do not bother him. They are a welcome diversion from the persistent kink in his neck; and so he stays right there a minute or two longer, leaning his full weight against the glass, and staring into a maelstrom of wind and ice that seems more as if an impressionistic canvas than a real storm.

         A scratchy wind howl, and a soft but rapid quiver in the glass that seems to suggest that it could explode at any time, snaps life back into his dead eyes.

         Brad drops his chin into his neck and skulks through the master bedroom, as if he is a burglar in his own home who does not want to wake up that bitchy, aging Ghost of Marriage Past who is curling up even now on her side of the bed.

         It is the only clean and tidy room in his home, since he never lingers any longer than necessary to go in and out of the master bathroom. It is also a kind of past time vault; the last moment a few years ago when they were contented to be together in this very room, when indeed they could and did consider it to be theirs, since then taken out of the chronological flow of time and preserved like something that is dead and stuffed; even their posed wedding photographs; he still sporting a mustache, she twenty pounds lighter; still leaning on the top of an Oriental chest of drawers that they had purchased together in Hong Kong.

         But he never actually looks at any of this. He even thinks every now and then that he should sell the furniture in this room and replace it with the cheap and comfortable affectations of a bachelor’s pad; maybe even position a mirror on the ceiling above his bed, and stash beer and porn beside his thick mattress.

         Of course, that is never going to happen. He is a married man; keeping a gold wedding band still on his left hand; no matter the signatures on the formal dissolution of marriage papers dated almost two years ago. He is holding on; no reason that he can tell, except that he needs to hold on as much as he needs to eat and to breath; and a man holding on does not live in a bachelor’s base pad.

         He drops his soiled underpants and slides beneath the refreshing spray of a steamy shower. He feels as if the shower is knocking a heavy weight off of his skin and bones; first as individual chunks of despair falling off of his husky torso and limbs and slinking into the drain; then as a grimy stream of old sorrows and squandered opportunities splattering into the puddle beneath his toes; and, for several minutes, the kink in his neck falls away like the true color in his dream.

         He thinks about her. He always does when he is in the warm shower; and no matter which particular memories he may indulge, he always ends up with a fantasy that she is in the master bedroom right now; tossing and turning from a nasty dream of her own; and reflexively reaching out to his side of the bed in a futile attempt to be saved from whatever evil has cornered her at the moment.

         She is trapped. Only he can save her. But he does not, as he has stepped away from her at just the wrong time; and so she will have no choice really but to wallow in the fear that is at the very heart of despair and to realize that she will not be better off; no matter the formal dissolution of marriage papers; nor the attorney she has been seeing since she left; if he is not forever by her side.

         She has a thick skull; too much of that prestigious law school education; too much stiff upper lip pride when first seeing her own name (and not her real name, but her maiden name) added to the letterhead; but even she is realizing what he has known since she looked into his bleary eyes and told him she loved another man; and not just any cock stud; but that ass munch Phil Flippo, who is not even a partner in the firm, and who is eternally digging wax out of his ears.

         She is realizing that she needs him. She desires him, especially when the night is long, and Phil Flippo is too much of a floppo to give her what she wants just then. She never says anything to that effect; but he knows why she started to call him again six months ago and why their phone conversations after hours, when Phil Flippo can be heard baby snoring in the background, have been quite steadily growing in duration and in intensity into an all out telephone romance.

         He had asked her last night to come over to his home; our home, he said at first, and then corrected himself; and without any hesitation she had agreed to cocktails and dinner; explaining that “Philly” is going to be out of town; and, after a nervous stammer, reminding him that this will be a “just friends” night.

         That’s fine, Brad had said. And he had meant it too, because even when they had been breaking the bedsprings, it had never been about the sex, not in his mind anyway. It had been about how she needs, no, desires, his heavy hand to grip tightly her small fingers and to pull her away from the mad night beasts.

         I’ll even cook for you, Brad had continued. And she had laughed, since it reminded them how often she had observed that there is nothing sexier than an oversized man in an apron. And with that silly reminiscence, she had blown her “just friends” kiss and ended the call with the kind of final and definitive click; a harsh, mechanical sound that snuffs out romance; that stays in the mind, and that is heard the next day in every other odd sound that is even near to a click.

         And so he expected to be on cloud nine the entire day; a big man with a skip to his step and an ugly rugby fight song on his lips; but instead he has been a total wreck; no doubt, some of which may be attributed to wild butterflies in the stomach; but most of which is that deep despair with which he had been so afflicted in the first year of their separation, when she had died in his universe, and had been reborn in a universe of graying law partners and one, toady lover.

         But, notwithstanding his anxiety, and a vague sense of foreboding that is sliding in and out of his consciousness like an unreadable telegram, he switches off the shower, pulls back the curtain, and steps into a sea of serenity that has no equal in our universe; a bliss that seems to be erupting from inside his chest and lifting his feet off the bathroom floor; and a glimpse of the absolute reality that defies the silly moralism and selfish ethics to which we pay our lip service.

         By the time he recaptures his conscious mind, which has been floating in this sea of serenity for a span of time that may be as tiny as a New York minute or as overwhelming as eternity, he has staggered blindly throughout the master bedroom; bumping into the Oriental chest of drawers and knocking over one of the posed wedding photographs; and has fallen onto his arthritic knees in front of the digital clock on the coffee table; a penitent in prayer; a soft prey before his rabid predator; and a kink in the neck once again that shatters silly dreams.

         There is a smash of thunder overhead that rattles the walls of his home.

And the 4:17 that should be pushing into 4:18 instead gives way to 4:05.

A storm cloud passes overhead and momentarily submerges the universe. 

I’m here; the digital red-eyed 4,0,5 beast taunts with the same ethereal voice that is used by the little, blond girl to reference the ghosts in Poltergeist.

Cheap piece of shit alarm clock, Brad mumbles; as he grabs helplessly at the back of his neck, and winces from a kink that has transitioned into a spasm.

But don’t worry, the 4,0,5 beast snickers. I’ll be back in twelve minutes.

The spasm snaps free from the muscle in his neck and spreads to the rest of his body; stiffening his muscles and tendons with in an electrical charge that seems otherworldly in the intensity of heat and pain; so that he is paralyzed at first and then has to use every last bit of his strength to crawl back to the sofa.

By the time he collapses on top of the feather downs and blankets, much of the heat and pain has retreated into a confused hangover; a repeat of the in and the out of the out of body experience; and so he clutches at the side of the sofa as if by strength alone he can stop his soul from flirting promiscuously with the eternal stretch of space and time that is just outside of his lumbering body.

He thinks he hears the 4,0,5 beast chuckling; a very distant sound that is mixing in and out of the hail beating into concrete; a strange sound that cannot be placed squarely in the category of memory or of dream and so lingers in that twilight that overlaps the other two; a scary sound, regardless, that focuses his disoriented mind on a foreboding intuition that is still vague, but a little less so than the last time; and it is that intuition from which the big man recoils as if a little boy scared silly mad by boogeymen in his closet and monsters in his sleep.

He turns onto his back and stares at the dead ceiling fan. He decides the little girl voice in the cheap piece of shit alarm clock is simply a discharge from his imagination; an “also-ran” that did not make it into one of his dreams, and so is allowed to give him a little scare; well, more than a little, he has to admit sheepishly; five minutes after four o’clock on this gray menace of an afternoon.

He thinks about her again; a string of memories of the two of them living and loving together; some of them stellar moments; most of them so small and unremarkable, like a memory of him leaving the sofa to take out the garbage as she remains behind to pore over her work file, that he wonders why the mind is even bothering to dig those out of the archive; and then the string of memories concluding with the same finale that he had experienced while in the shower: a fantasy of himself in the shower, while she is writhing in a nightmare and trying to reach out for him on his side of the bed; a reaffirmation that she truly needs him; she desires him; and that nothing can save her, but his huge hand on hers.

And then the sea of serenity pummels through the sliding glass door; the love wave submerging the entire universe in an eternal light; and the love wave in his own heart bursting through his chest and lifting his back from the sofa; so that there is no more fear, pain, or death distracting the soul from eternal life.

There is a smash of thunder overhead that rattles the walls of his home.

And the 4:17 that should be pushing into 4:18 instead gives way to 4:05.

A storm cloud passes overhead and momentarily submerges the universe.

I’m here. Wanna play? The 4,0,5 beast teases him yet again, except this time in the wisecracking voice of that murdering doll Chucky from Child’s Play.

Brad covers his ears. He hates having been snapped out from eternal life and bliss; it’s a real bummer; but he hates even more having to hear the same, loony, snickering, piece of shit voice from an old discard file in his imagination.

Then, why are you covering your ears, if it is all in your head? He thinks.

And so he drops his hands to his sides, stares at the dead ceiling fan, and just waits for a kink to return to his neck, and for that kink to become a spasm, and for that spasm to spread to the rest of his body, and for that extreme heat and pain to transition into a confused hangover, and for that madness to funnel into a foreboding intuition, one that is a little less vague than before, and for a string of memories to conclude with the fantasy that she needs him, no, desires him, and for another sea of eternal life and love to wash over gray death fears, and finally for the loop to continue forever and ever, world without end, amen.

It is all in my head, he replies to his inner voice, after the same loop has repeated itself a few more times. The goddamn alarm clock is broken, and I am convinced that I am stuck in a rut in the Twilight Zone. This is insane; goddamn insane; and, hell, I have not given Old Jack Daniels the time of day since she….

But he cannot finish; and he knows that that kink in his neck soon will be erupting into a spasm; and he can hear that 4,0,5 beast before it speaks to him from inside its plastic box. He can hear it, chuckling as 4:17 turns back to 4:05, and launching into the first note of an old television theme as 4:05 commences.

I’m here. It’s Howdy Doody Time! The 4,0,5 beast teases him in the little boy voice of the puppet from the 1950s; a little boy voice that rings somewhere inside of Brad’s mind as charmingly evil; the kind of voice that the perverts will use to lure boys into dark places and to coax them into dropping their knickers.

No, you’re not, he bellows, but without conviction. You’re not here; and I’m not stuck in a rut; and in a few hours Jen will be here with me in our home.

He swats the digital clock off the coffee table; and, in spite of the awful spasm in his neck; a spasm that at any moment will be spreading to the rest of his body; he manages a weak baby grin when the beast vomits its guts upon the gray hardwood and the digital display flashes several times and then goes dead.

He attempts to sit up, but then the whole body spasm paralyzes him into his feather downs and blankets; an agonizing moment that erases any feeling of power that he may have rekindled by knocking the smile off of the digital clock now and forever; a rock ‘n roll with the Devil that is as perverse as it is painful.

And so by the time he is able to walk away from the sofa; a minute or so after the whole body spasm has subsided into a confused hangover; he is totally stooped and defeated; his six foot, five inches of corned beef seeming no more than five and a half feet tall; his face weathered several decades past his forty years; and his blue eyes as fearful and as blank as those of a beaten street dog.

He still has enough of a clear mind and purpose to walk into the kitchen, to see the two white onions that must be diced, and to take up his chef’s knife.

The mindless work helps him to deal with the confused hangover. He still sees the string of memories flashing before his eyes; still fantasizes about being in the shower, while she is reaching out for him on his side of the love bed; but he does not feel controlled by any of these sensations, so long as he can handle and dice something held in place by his fine fingers and vulnerable to his whim.

And when the sea of serenity bursts through the kitchen door, carries his soul upon the shoulders of an ultimate love wave, and opens his eyes to the full reality that is life without the possibility of death, he knows that the two white onions in fact have been diced and that, therefore, God is King of All Goodness.

The wave recedes; and he is leaning over the counter, releasing his final tear of joy, and breathing in the last remnant of milk and honey in the kitchen.

He looks down and sees that the two white onions are whole, propped in a bowl side by side, untouched by the chef’s knife that is no longer in his hand, but rather is back in the drawer where he had retrieved it several minutes ago.

And the digital clock on the conventional oven clicks from 4:17 to 4:05. 

I’m back; the 4,0,5 beast taunts him with its ethereal Poltergeist voice.

Wanna play? The 4,0,5 beast kicks him with its direful Child’s Play voice.

It’s Howdy Doody Time! The 4,0,5 beast ends with a Howdy Doody laugh.

Brad clutches his ears and screams in agony. He wants to drown out that goddamn Howdy Doodytheme song, which seems to be whirling in and out from every direction, like the mad happy-clappy death jingle of the devil’s carousel; every subsequent note unveiling just a bit more of the not-so-vague foreboding that underlies this little cul-de-sac off the main time road; every beat prickling into his heart and leaking out whatever reservoir of hope he has stored in there since she first looked straight into his soul and said that she loved another man.

He falls to one knee; beaten and defeated; a child in the husky body of a man who never quite made it into rugby stardom; a child in the husky body of a man who could not measure up to the mind and the career ambition of the love of his life; a child in the husky body of a man who soiled his white, linen sheets with Old Jack Daniels many more times than he did with his wife; the wife who needs him; no, desires him; and who is going to show up very soon, see how he is kneeling before the whole onions, and drop her eyes to her bosom in a shame that he has observed only once; her shame when she caught him huddled in the closet kissing Old Jack Daniels; her shame when he tore out of the darkness like an unleashed devil beast and pushed her into the hardwood floor; her shame as he apologized and bawled; her shame as he promised never to injure her again.

And she will turn and walk away from him then; turn and walk back to a “Philly” who for sure digs wax out of his ear and who probably sniffs its aromas into his narrow nostrils like a connoisseur savors a vintage red; and leave him in his kitchen; no, their kitchen; stuck in a rut with no other friend or lover in the universe than the twelve minutes of eternity with which he is joined at the hip.

The spasm spreads to the rest of his body on schedule. It bolts his entire body forward, and his right arm juts out in a Heil Hitler salute that knocks over a plate of potatoes. The plate smashes, and the potatoes wobble over the tiles.

Shit, he barks, while collapsing into a fetal position on the floor. I’m just a goddamn head case; imagining that I’m trapped in The Outer Limits; a crazed beast in a fucking time zoo, and the smart, digital clocks are watching me from beyond invisible bars; and they’re laughing at me; taunting me, goddamn them all, as if I’m some sort of flea bag monkey; and all this shit in my head because I know she needs me; needs me right this moment; desires for me, as if her life depends upon it; all this crazy ass shit on account of her desiring me right now.

He is rolling around the floor in agony; the confused hangover; the string of memories; the fantasy that he is in the hot shower and oblivious to her cries for help; not there by her side; not there to save her from the death beast that is catching up to her even now in her nightmare; everything teetering on a cliff edge, and yet he is not there to do that one thing for which he has been called.

I need a drink, he laments, and immediately his weak heart sinks into his bowels, and his chest collapses into his sternum, as if he has given up his ghost.

He takes in a very deep breath, pulling his heart up from his bowels, and inflating his chest to the size and the intensity of a wild beast. It feels as if it is his first breath in years; his first breath, since he buried Old Jack Daniels at the back of the cupboard; and really it is his first breath, if he is going to be honest with himself, because a sober man does not breath; rather, a sober man whines air in and out of his lungs in the fear that, if he ever feels too alive, he will fall off the wagon and make a total ass of himself before the one lady who matters.

But madness is not much of an aid to moral restraint; and, anyway, he is not going to fall off the wagon; nothing so dramatic, no; at most he will just sit on the edge and allow his foot to drag through the gray dust behind the wheels.

And, anyway, how can he expect to make a favorable impression, if he is a four-legged beast on this kitchen floor howling at the digital clock above him?

He climbs to his feet, just as the sea of serenity again breaks through his kitchen door and drowns all of his weaknesses and fears. He feels that light and love wave lift his right arm up to the safe lock cupboard above the refrigerator; turn the combination for him; and knock away all of the other unmentionables; the devil foods and drinks left in safe lock cupboards to afford the weak flesh a fighting chance at restraint; so that there is nothing left in the universe, but an open and half finished flask of Old Jack Daniels, and his pair of wide open eyes.

He savors every last taste of that liquid gold without once feeling guilty.

After all, there is no sin in the sea of serenity; and so everything, even a fall off the wagon, is just too good, like sex on the beach in a beer commercial; too good for the angel’s concerned voice to manage even a squeak; too good at that eternal moment for anything else to be heard, but a charming devil laugh, and an affirming applause, and the kind of sweet nothings that spoil old hearts.

Old Jack Daniels is good to the last drop; and so he then has nothing else to do but to stare at the 4:17 above the conventional oven; his blank, blue eyes the only part of his stupor that is not wobbling on a make believe sea deck; and to triple dare it to unleash that 4,0,5 beast, instead of pressing onward to 4:18.

As expected, the 4:17 switches over to 4:05. He smiles broadly; the wide grin of a mischievous, drunk, rugby blood donor; lifts the flask over his big head of swarthy, blond hair; and prepares to pitch it into the digital, red eyed beast.

But out of the corner of his left eye, he sees that the plate of potatoes is whole again on the counter. It is beside the whole white onions. And, naturally, the chef’s knife is nowhere to be seen. It is inside the drawer where it belongs.

And the flask is heavier than he had expected, because it is half full and begging just now to be drained all over again down his prime roast beef throat.

So this is eternity, Brad smirks, while looking into the flask. An unlimited supply of fine booze without ever again having to eye a sand nigger cashier at a chink liquor store, not a white man’s burden, but a white man’s paradise, I say.

He feels that kink in his neck turn into a spasm; and he can count off the seconds to the full body paralysis; but that is okay; peachy keen even; since all it takes is a few fast swigs of the gold liquor to dull the senses and to transform the twelve minutes of eternity into a forgotten sex dream; hot and bothered in the moment, but then no more than a tired wince when the shades are opened.

And, frankly, in the back of his mind, he remains convinced that this is a sick dream; a practical joke carried out by his fears and against his hopes; and, if that is the case, then he really should mosey on back to his sofa, down one or two more half flasks, and keep his lights out until Father Time is back on track.

He can feel the spasm spread to the rest of his body, as he collapses into his tomb of feather downs and blankets; but the gold liquor smothers it so well, he thinks of it as little more than a whole body bump on the way to dreamland; and that is just fine with him; no, much more than fine; that is way out stoked. 

*   *   *

         Brad falls into a vivid dream, much more real than the twelve minutes of eternity from which he has fallen, so that, for a moment, he evades the shower spray by crouching into a corner. The water droplets are so real; so much more concrete than he imagines his skin and bones to be; that he fears that they will tear holes through his flesh and vaporize everything, leaving behind a ghost in a shower that can only despair over what it can no longer pull from danger with a big hand, and chuckling at that ghost in every pinprick of water against marble.

         Certainly, I cannot just hide here into eternity, his dream self observes. I cannot just squat on my thighs and stare at the bar of soap like a starving beast eyeing a slab of meat on the other side of its cage. If the water is going to tear me to pieces, then so be it; but I am not going to fear a goddamn shower spray.

         And so he steps into that spray. It does not tear through his flesh. On the contrary, it is the most relaxing, warm waterfall ever to strike his body, and he knows that he has never before been as clean and refreshed as in this moment; an awareness that etches a smile onto his concerned face; at first, an innocent, boyish smile, but then a mischievous grin of a devil who knows this is all wrong, and yet loving how it feels against his big flesh and how it even tickles his cock.

         It is so goddamn good; so goddamn right; like all the puzzle pieces of the universe falling in together at one moment. He feels like a happy man in a soap commercial; just so ecstatic to be scrubbing a bar of soap into his armpits; that he breaks into an old song: You’re not fully clean unless you’re zestfully clean.

         And so he hears her crying out for him in their bed; no, not really crying out, so much as moaning in the manner of a chained ghost; and knows from the sound that she is caught in a nightmare; a vicious devil of a nightmare; the kind that makes her realize just how much she needs him; no, desires him; to be not just beside her, but inside of her; his beefy, big man blood in place of her own.

         He takes his time; scrubbing and singing; even wiggling his wiener; until, finally, her ghost moans filtering through the shower curtain give way to an odd silence; a foreboding stillness in the air; a death pall that shudders his hot skin.

         This never happens in the soap commercials, his dream self comments in the wry manner of an actor who has been suddenly and prematurely yanked off of the set. There are still more verses. I swear it. Hell, I know it. And I demand the chance to sing each and every one of them until I have no more song in me. I goddamn demand it. It’s my song. It’s mine, mine, all mine. I’m not losing her to you or to that skinny ass lawyer who nibbles on his earwax or to anyone else.

         He snaps out of it, when he realizes that he is wringing the chicken neck of the showerhead with one hand and beating his knuckles into the shower wall with his other; a sad attack that would have beaten his knuckles raw in the real world but that does not even create a dent in this one; but, nevertheless, a sad attack that is so ridiculous on its face that even his dream self cannot ignore it.

         He steps out of the shower without bothering to turn off the faucets; not in that hurried and thoughtless manner that would suggest that he is clouded in worry, but rather in that lazy and indifferent manner meant to suggest that his is a mind unable to be preoccupied by anything outside of itself; an ease meant to indicate that his childish attack against the showerhead neck and the shower wall either did not happen, or at the very least did not reflect his cool persona.

         Therefore, as the shower continues to steam up the bathroom, he wraps a towel about his midsection and checks his teeth and nose in the foggy mirror, humming a zestfully clean verse, and cupping his spring cock for good measure.

         He steps nonchalantly into the master bedroom, clutches his weak heart, grasps the Oriental chest of drawers to stop from falling to the floor, and cries.

         The bed is not there. Instead, there is a high chair; an abnormally large, cartoonish one that almost reaches the ceiling; and she is leaning over her tray in that still and heavy fashion that suggests that she has been dead a long time; her skin waxy gray; her brunette hair draping over her scalp and down the front of the high chair; her dead fingers forever reaching out to what is unreachable.

         Before he manages to find his own breath, she sits up in her high chair; a sudden and mechanical act of defiance against the first law of death that looks as if it is the end result of an invisible string being pulled by a puppet master; a creepy surprise that does not affirm life after death, so much as pervert death, so that there is a sad gloom that seems to be spreading out from this obscenity.

         Her long hair drapes her shoulders and bosom, but it does not cover over the childish scribble over the rainbow on her bloody bib: I’m hereWanna play?

         And then there is her face. Everything below the neck belongs to his one and only Jen; not a LivingJen, but a Night of the Living Dead Jen; a play on his memory of what she used to look like, but an unreal thing that moves, but does not breathe, and that seems capable at any moment of disintegrating into filmy gray dust. Everything above the neck, except for her hair, belongs to a freckled Howdy Doody; her mouth an abnormally long, straight, top line of a rectangular jaw; her nose a nondescript bump in between two pot marked mounds; and her eyes a pair of black holes; a digital red 4 in the right eye; a digital red 17 in the left eye; and everywhere a gay chuckle that forces him to look at the numbers.

         He knows what is going to happen next. He knows it more than any truth to which he has offered his mind and his will in the past. And he knows that the next act in this unfolding terror is as unavoidable as fate ordained before time, and yet no less shocking to his loose grasp on sanity, even as it is not surprising.

         The numbers in her eyes flip over to 4 and to 05; and the straight line on top of the puppet jaw that passes for a closed mouth curls into a mad grin; and the freckles twinkle in place like amoeba in a petri dish; and the whole puppet head moves back and forth in time to a silent, but still felt, Howdy Doody song.

         Brad screams; and the next thing he knows, he is sitting up in his sofa; a child man drowning in his own sweat and clutching a half full flask by his chest; and a man child groping for his way in a world of new shadows and untold evils.

         A moving cloud overhead drapes the universe. The hail seems to respond to the darkness by growing even more intense, shaking the sliding glass door on its wheels, and beating into his concrete. The kink will be soon an awful spasm.

         All of this is so predictable, as if the notes repeated on a broken record.

         Bullshit, Brad mumbles lamely. I dreamt the twelve minutes of eternity, before I dreamt the Howdy Doody Jen on the high chair. I’m just exhausted; or just ill; and somewhere along the Oregon Trail, I’ve fallen off the wagon again; splat face down in the dust; and imagining time looping around my head like an old halo from hell, fitted for my hat size, and put there to keep me on the dirt.

         He looks inside his flask. The gold liquid is there; splashing from one side of the flask to the other; and inviting him to take a swim with Old Jack Daniels.

         He wants to throw the flask against the sliding glass door; but in spite of what he has said about dreaming the twelve minutes of eternity, he knows that the flask will be back in his hand, half full and inviting him to take a swim with Old Jack Daniels, in a little less than twelve minutes from now. And, even more so, he really does not want to lose his gold liquid; not even for a little less than twelve minutes, because he knows that the despair and the peace, coming soon as a double feature to a theater near you, will be too much without the crutch.

         Sensing that the spasm in his neck is going to spread to the remainder of his big body, he swigs the gold liquid; and, sure enough, the whole body assault registers as no more than a subtle wince and a momentary throb in his temples.

         He soon relaxes enough that he can reiterate the truth: there is no such thing as twelve minutes of eternity; the Howdy Doody Jen on a high chair is the kind of gross dream that he gets when he falls off the wagon; and he has to get his act together, or else he is going to make a big ass of himself in front of her.

         There is only one way he can get his act together in time. This way is not a technique, but a man; a special man; his accountability man at the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings that he has been shirking ever since she began to call him late at night. And this man will be there for him, because this man knows in his heart what every recovering drunk knows: there is no hope, no hope at all, if in the end the higher power on which we rely abandons us to the ferocious storm. 

         He is as drunk as a skunk; but with a clear purpose in mind, he can stand up and stroll over to the front door as composed as a teetotaler exiting church; only a dash of unmitigated hope seasoning his bloodstream; but enough to raise his head high, to lift his chest, and to close his mind to the fate all around him.

         He remains as confident as he scans the mess of clothing on the floor of his foyer and finally locates his Give Blood, Play Rugby sweatshirt and his sweat pants. He notes that he needs to put the rest of his clothing away when he gets back, lest this special evening be ruined the moment she steps into their home.

         He dresses; sees that he had put the flask on the floor beside his favorite tennis shoes; and decides in a moment of lapsed faith that it will be best to put it in his pants pocket. Surely, he will not need it; okay, maybe he will not need it; but there is certainly nothing wrong with the Boy Scout motto: Be Prepared.

         And in the same mind, he chooses not to wear his favorite digital watch; her last gift to him, before she had looked him straight in the eye and had told him that she loved another man; and instead ties his tennis shoes, strolls to the master bedroom, and retrieves his father’s analog Jaeger-LeCoultre from inside the Oriental chest of drawers; an heirloom that is way too stylish for what he is wearing now, but, on the bright side, a display without three, digital, red eyes.

         He grabs his umbrella and keys and steps into the maelstrom. At first, he sees nothing but a sheet of hail; and it takes some concentration to see the old and weather beaten Jeep Cherokee. It is no more than a faint ghost sitting on a set of sagging tires; a driver side headlamp smashed by a hailstone; a large chip and a crack in the windshield; more like a broken down coffin sinking back into the earth from which it came than an automobile ready to take him to his help.

         He settles behind the wheel, reaches compulsively for the flask (oh, how quickly old habits resume), decides not to be more drunk than he is now before setting out on the road, says a little prayer, and turns the key in his ignition. Of course, nothing happens at first; nor the second or third time he turns the key; but, finally, the lights in the dashboard perk on and off, and the motor rumbles just enough for him to slide the shift into reverse and put a bit of gas into play.

         He hunches over his steering wheel and stares intently into the confusion of wind and hail, as if sheer intensity will make up for his drunken stupor. He is putting every ounce of mind and strength he has left into driving down a totally empty residential street, turning right at the stop sign, and continuing down an avenue with no more traffic than an occasional sedan splashing mud against his windshield while passing him in the opposite direction. He brakes for a red light that is swaying wildly in the wind; looking aside, just in case that red oval turns into a 4, or a 0, or a 5, or anything else that talks to him like the little girl from Poltergeist, and the mass murderer from Child’s Play, and that sinister puppet.

         But the red oval turns green, and he continues into the maelstrom in the slow and steady manner of driving that is supposed to suggest that he is totally in charge of his faculties but that in fact tips off even the rookie cops that he is a prime candidate for a DUI, and another victory notch on their oversized belts.

         And so, sure enough, a white Capri saddles up to his rear end from out of nowhere; a mad ghost appearing in his rearview mirror and snarling rapaciously at him with its black push bumper; and scrambles its red and blue lights in that sudden and menacing manner that then snatches his breath and sinks his heart.

         Strangely, but also predictably, as the portly cop waddles through a mud puddle toward his window, Brad feels a wave of peace return the cold air to his lungs and retrieve the heart from his bowels. He is in that sea of serenity again (though it is not as intense, since he is still drunk as a skunk), and so he carries in his mind that white light voice that sings in eternity: Don’t WorryBe Happy.

         The cop is a pudgy Teddy Roosevelt hiding his eyes behind big sunglasses and squirming in a police uniform that is one or two sizes too small for the beef around his midsection. He beams with that pompous confidence; the very same arrogance that a knee cap breaker in the Mafia will show when he is dragging a victim down a dark alleyway; that says that everyone he pulls over is a shit dirt bag and that he knows what to do with shit dirt bags when no one watches him.

         He gestures for the window to be rolled down and thrusts his pudgy face into the cabin, sniffing like a dog on the hunt, and glaring in every direction for something more sexy to add to his arrest report than only a run of the mill DUI.

         Finally, realizing that there is neither drug contraband nor gagged ladies in the cabin, he looks straight into the eyes of his startled prey and grins in the big and stupid manner of a fat, schoolyard bully ready to inflict black and blue.

         There is a smash of thunder overhead that rattles the cabin of his Jeep.

         And, immediately, he is sitting in the cabin of his Jeep in the driveway.

         And he is totally naked. And since it is 4:05 all over again, why should he be surprised that his sweatshirt, sweat pants, tennis shoes, and heirloom watch are back where they had been twelve minutes ago? Isn’t that to be expected in the kind of loop universe that drives sad men off the wagon and into the grave?

         Incongruously, he still has the flask. It is resting on his thigh where just a second earlier it had been nestled in his pants pocket. Apparently, it is so much a part of him that is goes where he goes regardless even of the time of the day. 

         So it goes where I go, he whispers, as if he is saying something that is as profound as it is illicit. And she goes where I go. Goddamn the bitch if she has a mind otherwise, ‘cause the same twelve minutes repeated over and over makes a man confront his demons. He has got no time to go anywhere else; no time to pretend they’re not there; and if a man’s slaying the dragons; poking out every one of their digital red letter eyes; then his lady better be by his side; needing, no, desiring him; or else she’s no better than a snake on the pitch. Oh, a white man’s burden, a white man’s paradise, that same lady lawyer in sensible shoes.

         Breaking out in mad tears, he feels just enough of the recurring paralysis to down the flask. The pain evaporates into no more than a strange murmur out of his own body; a pest buzzing beside his right ear; and in the confusion that is soon spinning the universe on its axis, he snatches a bit of his sanity in the mix; a clear and plausible thought that, in this context, seems entirely foreign to his frame of reference, but that nonetheless compels him to get off his whiny butt.

         Stay tuned for a special announcement from our sponsors, he declares in his best radio announcer voice. This just in: Brad Gimp fell off his wagon, lost a few too many of his marbles in the old prairie dust, blacked out, and revived in the cabin of his Jeep Cherokee; naked, except for what remains in his flask; his life such a FUBAR mess that he is dreaming up a time loop, digital clock beasts, and a chunky Teddy Roosevelt just humping at the chance to throw his ass in an old, gray bar hotel. And so now he is on his way to take back his accountability, make himself a respectable man at home, so that he can bang her eyeballs out, bang them out of her sockets, and turn her into a blind bitch, panting for more of the same every twelve minutes, more of him, more of what only he can give.

         Before finishing the special announcement from his sponsors, Brad opens the driver side door, steps into the screaming hail, cradles the flask close to his heart, and walks down the side of the road with the gait of a man on a mission; a crisp sternness to his lips; a hard cock between his thighs; and a hundred yard stare that can see that the twelve minutes of eternity is no more than a foolish woman’s game; a prank; the kind of nonsense that excuses a shove to the floor.

         As he pushes through the wind and the hail, he sees how that large cloud veils the sun every twelve minutes, and he hears how that spitfire thunder rolls every twelve minutes. He can understand how a mind; especially a mind that is dancing the two step and a fall with Old Jack Daniels; is able to infer from such repeats in the storm that indeed it has been reeled into some sort of time loop.

         He can understand it, but he flat out refuses to believe it; just refuses in no uncertain terms; because he is a man on a mission; a man on his way to take back his accountability; and an accountable man cannot be stark, fucking mad; not when she is going to arrive in a few hours; not when he is going to serve his homemade supper; and not when they are going to restore their time together.

         And so why am I not nervous, when I see that the cop car is closing in on me? Brad thinks, when he turns down the avenue and notices how a white Capri has pulled out from a donut shop about a half a block behind his nude rear end.

         Do I really think that if he arrests me for indecent exposure, he will be a bad memory, and I shall be back on the road, within twelve minutes? Do I really think that that is how the world works for naked guys strolling down an avenue?

         The cop car scrambles its lights and pulls up to the curb. He passes it on foot as if he does not even notice. The fat Teddy Roosevelt kicks his door open, waddles up to the sidewalk, and orders him to stop. He continues without even a momentary twitch in his step that would suggest that he had heard the order.

         And then the thunder rolls, and the fat Teddy Roosevelt disappears along with his white Capri to wherever they had been twelve minutes prior; no doubt the cop finishing off his donut and coffee in the shop; the cop car being beaten by the storm, while parked in the one handicapped space in the abandoned lot; and none the wiser that a nude bloke is marching down the side of this avenue.

         Nonsense, Brad blurts out. The explanation is easy: the cop had not been there. I had imagined the whole thing. It is just Old Jack Daniels pulling my leg, playing on my fears, urging me to take another swig, before sanity creeps back.

         Nice thought; eminently logical; but Brad does not believe himself. He is just not going to forget that when the white Capri turned onto the avenue (and whether it had been a real or an imagined cop car is immaterial, because it had been all too real to him at that moment) he made no effort to hide in the bush, to dash into one of the storefronts, or even to quicken his slow and steady gait.

         Because he knows that the time loop is real; that the digital clock beasts torment him; and that this does not fit at all into his fine plans for the evening; no matter how many times he pushes the blame onto Old Jack Daniels, and says to himself that all is on track, but for his one night stand every twelve minutes with his old flame, this is more than the stuff of AA and an accountability man.

         But he continues down the avenue anyway; his chin sinking into his neck; and his flask smearing gold liquid through his chest hairs and into his wet heart; wet not from hail, but from tears falling back from his eyes and into his throat, and finally slithering through the bloodstream to drown every one of his organs.

         Almost twelve minutes later, the white Capri pulls over beside him, and the fat Teddy Roosevelt kicks his door open. He manages to step out of the car, when the loud thunder rolls and he and the cop car are back at the donut shop.

         Twelve minutes after that point, the white Capri is still a half a block to his bare rear, barreling up to him but not yet turning its tires towards the curb, when the loud thunder rolls and he and the cop car are back at the donut shop.

         This makes sense, in a way, because time is looping, but he is continuing down the avenue, so that it is closer to the twelve-minute mark every time the fat Teddy Roosevelt makes out a big bear rear end through his thick sunglasses; less time for the Ex-President to catch up to his prey, before the old time tolls; more opportunity for the naked rugby has been to make his path to her destiny.

         And this is all about her destiny, Brad mumbles. Not mine, but hers, and that is because she needs me, no, desires me, not the other way, goddamn her.

         He is lost in his confusion and sadness. He is a giant laboring in his mind.

         He steps off the avenue and onto a residential road that is snaking about a queer patchwork of bohemian fixer uppers, shaggy art studios, and medicinal pot gardens; an oasis not far from the urban life, but as removed from the care and concern of real life as is possible without abandoning satellite television; a groovy place for boomers who do not want their local postman to be too groovy in how he drops off their social security checks and who do not want their local cop to be too groovy in how he follows a weirdo or a black in the neighborhood.

         The world is a gray haze of wind and hail; everything a ghost shimmer on the periphery of his downcast eyes; but he cannot miss the pink corrugated iron gate and the two red painted signs. One reads: Healing begins at home. And its companion; much larger and underlined by an image of a dog; reads: Keep Out.

         He pushes through the gate. A dog barks non-stop, but he pays no heed, because he realizes that its just a blond Shih Tzu that is going to remain on the porch for fear of the mighty hail and that will lick him all over when he arrives.

         His accountability man steps out to greet him. He is a bony, old buzzard; a pronounced beak on a drooping face; and everything beneath the chin draped in a loose fitting, tie-dye T-shirt and a faded pair of Levi’s. He drags on a joint, hocks a loogie, and offers a broad smile of yellow teeth to his fellow soldier, as he likes to refer to the several young men for whom he provides accountability.      

         Far out, Master Gunnery Sergeant, the old man laughs, when Brad is near enough for him to be able to see that he is buck naked in a hailstorm. So Dinky Dau shitfaced you are. I bet you’re howling at the goddamn moon for that bitch Bouncing Betty, praying that she’ll come back and blow away the rest of you to the Big C.O. in the clouds, angling for a freedom bird back to your eternal rest, conniving for a good score in your final AAR, before you hightail off this lagoon.

         Not a she, but a he, Brad corrects him. And his name is Old Jack Daniels.

         Faggot, the old man snarls, before he hocks another loogie. A drunk does not make love to an old man. He listens to his stories, shares a song with him in an empty train car, perhaps even cries for him when he’s found stripped to the bone beneath an old and worn out bridge. But he reserves his sweet lips and his smelly cock for his whore; his pussy juice in a flask; his boom-boom in a bottle.

         The old man stares coldly at the naked buck at the foot of his porch, and then he bursts into a wild fit of laughter. He opens his wiry arms and invites his guest into a bear hug. He leers back at his guest in the quirky manner of a dirty old man, so that the bear hug seems to be a gross sin shared between two men, the kind of sick perversion Saint Paul condemns so straightforwardly in Romans.

         He leads his guest into his ashram; a hobbit house divided into the public spiritual retreat space in the front and the private living space in the back. The front room is a sprawling mess of vintage sixties floor cushions, quilts featuring the peace symbol and the thumbs-up sign, statuettes and paintings of Ganesha, the Hindu elephant god, a signed portrait of the Dalai Lama, a collection of old rifles and Vietnam War era medals and photographs (his various commendations from his decades in the United States Marine Corps framed about a psychedelic poster that reads: Give Peace a Chance), and a jerry-rigged Zenith boob tube in a porthole serving as a red oak table top for drug paraphernalia and love beads.

         Brad watches what is on the television, as the old man leaves him to find a robe for him in the back room. Even though the screen is partially veiled by a waterfall of hanging love beads, he can see and hear Zsa Zsa Gabor cornering a spunky Captain Stubing and Gopher on the whitewashed deck of The Love Boat.

         The old man returns, outfits his guest in a long and sultry mink coat, and gestures for him to take a seat on one of the cushions. He takes a seat opposite his drag queen guest, takes another hit on his joint, and sinks back into the soft groove, slow motion mannerisms, and hundred-yard stare mistaken for gravitas.

         So how may I help you? The old man asks amiably, but in the distant way that suggests that already he is being distracted by a totally unrelated thought.

         Brad nods towards the flask that he is cradling as if a baby at his nipple.

         Sweet Jesus, I’m pissing mad, the old man snarls. And do you know why? Well, I’ll tell you. I’m a good soldier, you see, and I deserve my M-16 and my C-Rations; no half stipend on Pay Day; no dead gook medal pinned on the chest of the guy next to me in line, but not on my own. That’s the only way, man; what we devil dogs in the bush call civilization; the reach around; every white man a chance to sit in the saddle and to kick the pony with his heel spurs. You see, all I ever want is my freedom; my liberty; my own pussy locked up in my bedroom, so that I can enjoy her whenever I have a mind to do so, thank you very much. I think that is the way of the world. Someone else has got to suffer; be captured or corrupted or just fucked up royally, so that I can enjoy the spoils of war; the merits I’ve earned on account of all the gooks I’ve left in the bush; goddamn it, what I’ve earned; what I’ve earned with my two hands and my killer instinct. Is that so mad and inhumane? Or isn’t that just my yin for their yang, my strength for their weakness, my straight arrow for their confusion and cowardice? I know of no man who is dead who did not first give up the race; no man who is a loser who did not first roll over for his pussy; no man who is a drunk who did not first get on his knees and open his mouth for the gold liquid spitting out of a flask. It is a sad day when we look ourselves in the mirror and realize that we need that old fashioned crutch; a god; a higher power; a good and respectable wife and a baby in the oven. All that Sunday school shit, because we had fallen to our soft knees one too many times. Okay, so I accept a higher power. In my case, it is a fine packet of Maui Wowie that Doc; licensed medical marijuana professional, I hasten to add; leaves for me on my porch every Sunday morning, after dropping in on the UUs and a retired Hare Krishna friend of his. In your case, hell, it may be a crucifix above your shitter or a Playgirl from back in the day when you had thought about being a goddamn queer. Or it may be your pussy; that girl in the sheets who grows up to have a mind of her own; that girl so smart and ballsy in her fine tailored suits that she leaves you for a pair of Italian loafers. And so all you have left is your addiction; your first and last friend; the old man who is all trimmed whiskers and smiles, while he is robbing you blind; just taking away all that you’ve earned in the old bush; your medals; your pension; even your time.

         I still have twelve minutes, Brad offers. I have twelve minutes in spades.

         And what the hell are you going to do with twelve minutes? The old man snaps, before he takes another hit from his joint. You cannot even watch a sick porn reel in twelve minutes, let alone knock yourself blind on the shitter with a girly mag in your other hand. In twelve minutes, you can do nothing but remind yourself in a million different ways how futile life is without your higher power.

         There is a smash of thunder overhead that rattles the walls of this home.

         The old man disappears. He is in his back room, rolling a joint, mumbling to himself something or other about how the goddamn UUs always buy the best from Doc and leave the second rate shit for patriots like himself, and remaining oblivious to the fact that one of his fellow soldiers is sitting in his front room at this moment a few minutes before the solider will be invited in from the storm.

         And Brad has no other choice but to watch the television commercials at the top of the four o’clock hour give way to the opening song of The Love Boat, a best of the best episode that will feature Zsa Zsa Gabor in a sultry mink coat, and an episode so beloved by the fans that it will start again in twelve minutes.

         The Shih Tzu steps out from the back room. It is on its way to the porch, where it is going to bark at him when he opens the gate; but sensing him there now, and recognizing his scent as belonging to one of those soldiers who comes over once in a while, the Shih Tzu strolls to him and happily licks his left ankle.

         Brad looks down and sees that he is naked again. The mink presumably is in the back room closet on a hanger beside faded military uniforms and tie-dye.

         He stands up; hanging his head low, stroking his flask, looking around the front room in the cautious manner of a burglar; thinks momentarily about once more visiting with his accountability man; and then resigns himself to the futile life that is awaiting him in the hailstorm. He does not care that once more he is going to be cold and wet. He only laments that the hail cannot wash him clean.

         Hunching out the gate, and starting down the serpentine road that leads back to the avenue, he thinks suddenly of Angie, the pot head cockteaser a few houses down with whom he has passed the time whenever he has been too gray in his aborted life; his life without Jen; his life stretched into an eternally dead thing beside a master bedroom that has been embalmed and preserved for time immemorial. Angie had filled in the sad black hole after he had locked Old Jack Daniels in the cupboard, and she had continued to pour her heavy concrete into his endless hole until he had started his late night chats with the one woman in the world who needs him, no, desires him, and had imagined white light ahead.

         He shoulders open her gate and looks resignedly at the trash in her yard.

         Angie finances her addiction with whatever she scrounges out from tired afternoon flings; the johns always long gone by the time her teenaged hulk of a son returns from his afternoon scrimmage with all the other starting linemen on the high school varsity football team; so many condoms tossed in the toilet that the plumber needs to unplug the pipe every other month; and a garage sale she continually hosts of the crap she steals from the dump at the outskirts of town, a garage sale that often reunites her neighbors with those quirky odds and ends that they had thrown away in the first place, a peculiar rite by which, in return for a small fee, the buyer is reminded that nothing is forever gone, not even an old pair of holey socks, or a warped vinyl record, or a wife who has offered her life to a law firm and has taken up with a skinny ass who sniffs his own earwax.

         She must be working hard this afternoon; or has taken a hit on a stronger than usual joint and, as a result, is scarfing down every last pretzel and peanut butter concoction remaining in the universe; since she has not yet stormed out from her steamy hot home; curlers in her hair no matter with whom she may be passing the time; her low hanging party dress splashing through the mud puddle at the base of her porch steps; to secure her shit from the ravage of the storm.

         Maybe she realizes that the storm cannot debase the value any more, he thinks, as he tosses aside a sex calendar featuring Fabio in various sultry poses, and rummages through large cardboard boxes of worn out Harlequin Romances.

         He wonders if he should wait until he hears the thunder roll again before knocking on her door, so that he can have a full twelve minutes with her; but a sad moan bleeding out from the front living room window tells him at once that that would not make any difference. He steps up to the porch and peeks into a muddy gray window that is only partially veiled by the bordello red curtain that hangs on the other side; and, as expected, he sees her riding an old gnome of a man; a death warmed over that he recognizes from AA; and giving what little is left of her life to the sex, money, and pot that together are her twelve minutes of eternity; the sex a kind of cloud that spreads over the world and turns hopes into sad moans and writhing limbs; the money a kind of momentary paralysis of a mind that is not accustomed to having in hand that loot for which it had been dreaming, and conniving, and screwing, followed by the confused hangover of a pent up buying spree; and the pot a kind of sea of serenity that will remain joy and peace and white light forevermore, so long as there is not enough of a sane and conscious mind to remind the groovy seafarer that she is swimming in a lie.

         He continues to watch; his cock actually turning more flaccid by this sad pornography; and after the thunder rolls on schedule, rattling the thin columns of the porch, and kicking up a splash of cold mud and hail against his bare back and legs, he observes how twelve minutes earlier she had been riding the same old cock, looking down at the same old face, exhaling the same old moan in her living room; a near and distant living room; a place of two dimensional shadows forsaking their hopes in eternity and losing themselves in a broken record time.

         He pushes away from the window and downs his half full flask in a single gulp. He is already as drunk as a skunk, but he wants to pass into the blackness just beyond his vision and to be rid of the sad nightmare once and forevermore.

         He stumbles down the porch steps, trips over one of the large cardboard boxes of Harlequin Romances, and makes worn out love to a patch of wet grass in the yard. He surrenders to the dark, before his cock hardens in this embrace.

         And the next thing he knows, he is in the shower again. He wonders if he had walked all the way back to his home but had blackened out any memory of the return trip by gulping a half full flask every twelve minutes. Certainly, he is suffering from a headache so intense that the shower walls seem to be crashing in and bursting out in sync with his throbbing temples; and though he is, for the most part, despondent and confused, he has just enough of a conscious mind to deduce that the headache is the result of a wicked hangover from a mad binge.

         He is crouched in the corner; the shower spray whispering past his limbs, splattering into the tile beneath his feet, and ascending as that steamy incense offered unto the jealous gods from below the crusted earth; a superstitious ape man frightened that the shower will tear through his skin and bones, no matter if it seems warm and soothing right now; but also a modern man who is capable of reminding himself that this is a real shower in the real world. And showers in the real world do not vaporize men and leave behind confused and gray ghosts.

         And so he stands up and steps into the stream. He senses a living warmth envelope every inch of his body; the eternal peace incarnate in each and every one of the droplets; and he grins in the manner of an ignorant boy enjoying the total sensual experience of love wrapping a blanket about his body and soul; an overwhelming joy that is also as soft and as silent as white light sifting through blinds; a universe of all times encapsulated in a thimble of time; a moment too large for the imagination, and yet too small for words; so that he has no choice but to bask in water light and to hope that there is no shadow around the bend.

         And then the living warmth erupts into a dead hell flame; each droplet a projectile from out of the mouth of a devil, singeing his skins, boiling his blood and organs, and chipping his bones into osseous dust; a transition from life into death that is so quick; so seamless; as to suggest that there never had been any line between the two; a peace flipped into despair by the white gloved hand of a jester god, a trickster divine, without any opportunity to scream out one final condemnation and prayer; a man erased midsentence, as if unworthy of an end that could be transcribed as a singular and complete thought on his tombstone.

         He clutches the neck of the showerhead; but he cannot move the rest of his body out of the stream in time; so that in the end he is nothing but a pair of big hands gripping at the neck of the showerhead, while the rest of him is a sad and confused ghost writhing in a hot stream that is no longer able to harm him; a ghost caught in the memory of his last moment; the process of vaporization a broken record repeated in eternity to remind this big man that his life is futile; a bit irrelevancy in the mind of the gods; a spirit unable to save or to be saved.

         He hears her moaning for him in the master bedroom; a nightmarish fear that is trying in utter desperation to reach out to him on his side of the bed; an anguished cry as the black cloak corners her, contorts the straight mouth of his skull face into a clownish smile, and gestures for her to follow him into a grave.

         The moans finally stop; again midsentence, as if the moans right now are continuing into eternity, even as they are cut out from this world; and then the entirety of the universe is a foreboding silence; a Siren call not in a song but in a heavy gloom; a lure that even a ghost writhing in a hot stream cannot ignore.

         He floats through the shower curtain; leaving his physical hands wrapped about the neck of the showerhead; throwing aside his past memories, his hopes and his dreams, so that there is nothing left of him but his unassailable fears of a time and a place, maybe distant, maybe so very near, he cannot ever master; a time and a place where she does not desire him; a life where he is dead to a night of crazy love, or a morning of breakfast in bed, or a noon of stolen kisses; a life in twelve minutes that is as endless as a solitary star sailing into the void.

         He glances at the foggy mirror; maybe hoping against all indications that he is still a man living out his life in skin and bones; but there is nothing to see.

         He tries to wrap a towel about his midsection, but that proves to be very difficult with his physical hands still clutching the neck of the showerhead; and even when he manages to tie a knot, the towel just falls to the floor as if it had been intentionally dropped there. He is as nude in death as he had been in life.

         Floating into the master bedroom, he sees that the bed has disappeared into the very same void where he had thrown aside his past memories. Instead, there is an automobile driver side seat that has been ripped out from the cabin and discarded onto the center of the hardwood floor. She is sitting in the driver seat; her seatbelt fastened; her chin leaning on her breasts; her long, brunette hair draping over her scalp and down the front of her torso; her hands clutching a steering wheel that is not there; and everywhere the blue skin that over time will become waxen, then brittle, then chipped and chewed back into the earth.

         He wants to shout, but he is too weak. He wants to unbuckle her, but he has no hands. He wants to pray for her soul, but he fears that god of the twelve minutes of eternity; the jester god; the trickster divine; the god who refuses to balance the scales between mercy and justice when, with a learned grin and an inhospitable heart, he acknowledges that justice is more fun; and he knows the utter futility of offering up a prayer to a heaven peopled by jesters and knaves, overseen by rebellious angels biding their time, and ruled by darkening despair.

         And so he does nothing. It is as if he is back in the shower, ignoring all of her wretched cries, forsaking her desire to hold him, and awaiting the absolute silence that is the end of a life. It is as if he is back in his mother’s cozy womb.

         You’re time’s bitch, the old man snarls at him. Impotent, futile, bending over without even asking for your chance at the saddle, your weakness there on full display because you will not insist on getting what you’ve earned; sure, lots of dead gooks, but no medals on your chest; how noble, a master bedroom that has been preserved from any bachelor touch, even your precious wedding shots still on top of the Oriental chest of drawers, and yet every night she is screwing a pair of Italian loafers and kissing the same lips that chew on earwax. So really all I can say is: goddamn you; goddamn you to that shit creek you’re swallowing right now; goddamn you to an eternity measured in repeated time; because the future beyond the twelfth minute is not meant for the likes of you; it is meant, no demanded and taken by force, by the likes of devil dogs who stand up, step forward, and shed piss and blood for the higher power for which they must die. Semper Fi Gung Ho Gung Ho, and if you can’t take it, then just stay there, face down in a patch of wet grass, and wait for the Big C.O. to claim your fat ass for the hippies and the faggots who are the designated cocksuckers in the clouds. I can see if right now: your fat body on bended knees; your dead eyes compelled to remain open; your lips wrapped around Old Man Cock; and your heart sinking a bit closer to hell with every forward thrust of your head, not because you are a designated cocksucker; hell, you actually can stomach the taste and the feel; but because you know in your silly girl heart that you had never demandedand taken by force what had been yours by rights. Instead, you had spent your wad, given up the ghost, accepted the hippies and the queers as your fine shipmates on The Love Boat beyond the Pearly Gates, always bemoaning the same twelve minutes, even among your new cocksucker friends coiffed in their heavenly soft pink robes and ruby slippers, instead of loading your M-16 and capturing the hill from the gooks. Semper Fi Gung Ho Gung Ho, so then stand up, you cock tease, stand up before this fate is really yours and yours alone, before you look about the heavens and discover that you are the only designated cocksucker up there.

         The old man’s voice; a disembodied energy reverberating off of the four walls of the master bedroom with such power as to contort everything in sight, even the corpse buckled to the driver side seat, into a snarl; transitions into an ugly moan; a sad ghost wail; that brings to mind Angie riding the cranky gnome.

         And with that terrible sadness ringing in his ears, Brad awakens from the dream. He is disoriented and exhausted; a shell of a man caked in mud and hail pellets; but at least he is able to focus on what needs to be accomplished next; not so as to break out of the twelve minutes of eternity (that being a hope that is no longer feasible in his mind), but so as to make his fate more palatable; his personal hell less miserable; and that is to take what he has earned, to capture the only woman in the world who really desires him; and to save her life, more so, her innocence, for himself and for an eternity in which he is victim and god.

         He needs to call her. She had asked him never to call her on her business cellular phone (“Philly” has access to her call record through a pal of his within the billing department), but now is not the time for discretion; now is the time for a big man to take control of a bad situation; now is the time to do or to die.

         He returns to the porch with the thought of using Angie’s telephone. She will be lost in her sad moans the whole time and will not notice him step in and out of her kitchen. Indeed, as far as he is concerned, she will remain shut off in every way from his needs and desires forevermore; their moments together lost to a past he cannot revisit and to a future he cannot know; the twelve minutes, looped in eternity, a span in which she has eyes only for the devil inside of her.

         But then he remembers that, if he calls Jen from Angie’s telephone, Jen will read the incoming call number as belonging to the sordid woman whom she has been referring to as “old roach cunt” since even before they were married. It is the epithet born out of her fear that the garage sale hooker always had her eyes on her man. It is the hostility that cannot subside, in spite of her new life, because there is too much perverse joy in holding onto the hatreds of the past.

         And so Brad closes the door on Angie as if he had never known her. He is heading back towards the avenue in a moment, a naked man coddling a flask at his heart, a stooped creature hoping for just one more opportunity at salvation.

         Stumbling down the avenue; remembering how she looked when buckled and dead in the driver side seat; he looks up from his bare feet in time to make out the yellow headlights of the cop car approaching him from inside a sheet of hail. The cop car is a white ghost with black push bumper teeth; a menace with a blood thirst for prey; and when it scrambles its red and blue lights it seems to be grinning at the prospect of chewing the freedom off of a man and depositing it with the rest of the dirty junk piled in the back seat behind the chicken wire.

         There is a smash of thunder overhead that rattles the core of the earth.

         And then the cop car is gone; no doubt back at the donut shot occupying the only handicapped space; and Brad returns his eyes to the dirt on the street.

         He forgets that he is walking towards where the cop car will depart from the parking lot, not awayfrom that spot, so that the twelve minutes of eternity is now working against him. He is surprised, therefore, when just a few minutes later, the cop car scrambles its red and blue lights and pulls up in front of him.

         The fat Teddy Roosevelt in the oversized sunglasses waddles out from his cabin; his lips curling into a devilish grin; his right index finger tempting a loose trigger in his holster; his left index finger pointing out in the manner of a divine judgment; so that taken together he is a hybrid of a five year old snot sniffer in a game of cops and robbers and a crazy pastor calling down fire and brimstone.

         Brad stops in his tracks. He has no idea how many minutes he is from the thunder roll and what the Bully with the Glock may do to him in the meantime.

         Oh, Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peckers, the cop snickers, while staring at the flaccid cock in front of him and licking his lips. Or, as I should say in your case, a half a pecker. So what is it, boy? Are you out here on my avenue searching for your balls? Perhaps you want to scare old ladies; or pervert young boys; or find your Kicks on Route 66? Is that your pathetic gig, you dick deviant?

         The cop scrunches his own face, so that he is both angry and amused; his look suggesting that he is much more off his rocker than the average cop on the beat; ready at the smallest provocation to do something not likely to be read in any of the police manuals; anything from an unwarranted fist to the stomach to a sloppy kiss on the lips. He leans his face into his victim’s in order to make the point clear enough: he is in charge here; he is more than a bit mad; and he is a bored son of a bitch, suffering from heartburn, and looking to ruin a man’s day.

         Perhaps you desire to seduce me into giving you a ride in the backseat of my love shack on wheels? The cop continues with a wink and a grin. In my time, we called it dragging the main; you know, like in American Graffiti; except, of course, the boy never handcuffed his chick in the backseat. Oh, no, he held her tightly in his right arm; her cheek resting on his shoulder in the thoughtless way of adolescent girls; and he steered with his left thumb and fingers dancing ever so lightly over the wheel. I can think of nothing more American; more apple pie and wholesome motherhood and all that shit; can you? Well, speak up, shit dick son. Exhale, move your tongue and lips, and emit something that resembles the fine words in the Webster’s Dictionary. Oh, I see, you’re aware of your Miranda Rights, is that it? You’ve heard it recited a few times on cop shows. Well, listen to me, son. That shit does not play here on my avenue. Supreme Court faggots; and you know they’re twinkle toes ‘cause they wear black evening gowns; well, let’s just say that they have no jurisdiction over my beat. I’m the pig belly god; a kind of monstrosity in the Hindu pantheon; and the law-abiding taxpayers; all the good people; well, they’re just happy to be able to suck from my tits every now and then. Do you want to suck my tit? Do you want to feel a man’s nipple? Do not get me wrong. I’m not a queer. It’s just that I am starting to understand that you’re really a chick in the shape of a man. Call it police deduction. Call it a vice cop thinking like a pervert. Even better, call it the mind of a god, setting up the old crime scene before he knocks it down. And make no mistake, son, or should I say daughter, when our romance is done, I’m going to bust up your silly chick ass. That’s the part of dragging the main that is not shown in the official, sanitized version of American Graffiti; goddamn George Lucas for turning every scene he crafts into some sort of Disney bullshit; but that’s the real part; what we vice cops call the corpus delicti of a scene; what really matters; the vicious brutality, when the boy drives off the main, parks beneath a tree in the woods, turns up the Andrews Sisters singing Mr. Sandman, and shoves a pipe into a pink rear end. Oh, am I bothering you? Am I making you cry? Am I upsetting your fine fairy tale? Or are you mucking up the scene by walking around naked in a storm and mumbling insane bullshit? You know, perhaps you’re the real criminal here.

         The cop steps back. He looks over his victim, like a man choosing his slab of meat from the butcher. His eyes smile so warmly that at first he resembles a granddad doting over his munchkin on Christmas morning; but then, these same eyes narrow just enough to resemble a munchkin getting ready to beat the crap out of his granddad. His is the heart torn between mercy and justice; the heart that beats in the twilight between love and rape; the heart of a man; and so in the end, his is the tension that can find no release but in violence tempered by conversation; a bully gentleman; a pervert pastor of souls; a condemned judge.

         In the manner of a gunfighter at the O.K. Corral, he draws his Glock 17C 9mm and points it at the chest of his victim. He assumes a thousand yard stare; a look that is frightening primarily because it is impervious to the wind and the hail; and while keeping the rest of his face as blank as a chiseled stone, mouths something that cannot be comprehended. He is a mismatch of body control and insanity; a man firm and on the brink; a contradiction that just freezes the soft minds and breaks down the hard ones, until the victim is a man bitch, adorning a pair of beautiful braids, and smiling thoughtlessly through his wretched tears. 

         Brad is amazed that a clock somewhere has not yet hit 4:17, but then he thinks that everything about this odd cop; his speech, his erratic gestures, even his thousand yard stare right now; has been dizzying fast, as if he is an element in the hailstorm. But, apart from this thought, Brad is too shitfaced drunken; or too committed to his own a death wish, which is much the same thing; to blend enough brain synapses together to formulate a coherent sense of what actually may be occurring, let alone how he can improve his tactical position in this silly game of cops and robbers. He is just a disoriented, wet oaf staring back at that Glock 17C 9mm like it is an incomprehensible addition from some other planet, no doubt, an element in the game but one that is neither positive nor negative.

         But there is nothing neutral about the cop. He demands a reaction; very often a pair of wide-open eyes and a quivering mouth; from whomever happens to be his victim at the moment. He is a mismatch of many incongruent thoughts and behaviors; and, at first, that will put any would be victim on guard; but, on the whole, he is essentially a mischievous boy running about with a loaded gun.

         And so Brad is not particularly surprised to observe how the cop suddenly breaks out of his gunfighter pose; his thousand yard stare turning into mercurial pupils bumbling about a pair of petri dishes; and twirls his firearm as if a baton in the right hand of a half assed cheerleader. He cannot tell if the cop is totally off his rocker now or just inept with a baton, but either way he is a clear and a present danger and a portal through which a mindless dread invades this world.

         The cop finishes his baton act by rhythmically tapping the barrel into the chest of his victim and, with his left hand, cupping the wet cock of his victim in the manner of a beast sizing up what it can tear off with its sick teeth anytime.

         You know, the beauty of a pipe in a pink rear end is that it is eternal. All the dead girl skin; the graying organs; the spilled blood; all that shit is going to decay; even the bones will be swept up by the wind and the hail; but that large pipe sticking out of the ass will be there still; a heavy metal thing poking into a crack in the earth that can make the sick in the head gods glance at each other and snicker long after the last Cain has murdered off the last Abel in the world. And so that pipe will be the looping of the time between the thrust of that pipe and the death of that girl; a kind of eternity fallen in on itself and hardened by nature into an object; an object that inspires the mad laughter that masks over naked fear; and object that is as dormant as a big rock but can know no peace.

         The cop grins sweetly. He licks his lips and squeezes the cock just right.

         I do not have a pipe, the cop whispers. But do not fret, little girl, ‘cause I have a Glock 17C 9mm that feels so smooth and chill up a pink ass that you’re going to think you’ve died and gone to queer heaven; you know, that awesome, phallic cloud to the side of the pearly gates; that club where the bouncer is not Saint Peter, but Saint Hildegard of Bingen in a pantsuit; and you’re going to beg me to keep it in so firm and tight, until you give up your ghost right here on my avenue. But I shall not indulge your sick fantasy; your suicide lust; ‘cause in the end I am a man of the law; committed to the public safety; and determined for your own good to do no more than is necessary to haul your ass to the slammer.

         The cop drops the cock, holsters his firearm, pockets the flask within his coat, blurts out the Mirandawarning, and handcuffs him for indecent exposure.

         The next thing Brad knows he is languishing in the cramped backseat of a cop car; his handcuffed hands dangling over his knees; his knees poking into his heaving chest; and his heavy eyelids drooping into an unsettled sleep. He has a vague impression that the cop car is continuing down the avenue away from his home; no doubt on a path to the police station downtown; and that he is losing even his tenuous grasp on reality to a madman cop, delivering him into his Hell, and relishing the chance to squish out the life of one more of the dick deviants.

         As if reading his thoughts, the cop turns back to him and smiles insanely.

         You’re going to love what happens next, he whispers, as he licks his lips.

         There is a smash of thunder overhead that rattles the cop car windows.

         And then the cop and the cop car vanish; the cop back at the donut shop finishing his break; the car parked in the only handicapped space; and Brad is a soaked flesh ball rolling down the avenue and crashing into the curb beside the town pet store; the cats and the dogs in the window staring down at him with a quizzical look on each of their faces; the quaint store sign hanging over his face and rattling in the hail, as if it is a guillotine blade loosened and about to slide.

         Brad remains there a long time, staring at the loosened guillotine blade, part of his psyche hoping that it will slice his head apart from his neck, but the greater part wanting to recover enough to return to their home. Still, even the part of his psyche that wants to press onward does not sense any urgency in the matter, since he can stay there forever and yet be in the same twelve minutes.

         At one point, he reaches in between his thighs and finds the flask. It is a battle scarred silver; really, no more than storm debris, after being beaten sad and silly by the wind and the hail for so long; but it is standing upright, defying an eternal maelstrom, and sheltering the gold liquid that has been consecrated in the sweat and the tears of past and present failures; a chalice for a man who is in communion with despair; a tiny sanctuary in a universe of ugly profanities, and, therefore, the only thing that makes sense in an eternity that is senseless.

         The part of his psyche still attempting to discredit the twelve minutes of eternity idea; still contending that he is mad and the universe is sane; does not expect to find the flask. After all, the fat Teddy Roosevelt cop had taken it out from his wet hands and had stuffed it into his coat; and, no doubt, he is gulping from it whenever the coast is clear at the police station downtown; smiling and chuckling, as he remembers the lard ass nudist that he viciously had thrown out of his moving cop car; and when the circumstances do not allow for a trip down memory lane, storing it with the rest of his contraband within a locked drawer.

         But the flask is there; and that means that he is not nearly as mad as the universe. He had not been thrown out of a moving cop car; the moving cop car, instead, had vanished into thin air. He had not lost his one companion to an out of control cop; the out of control cop had lost what he had stolen to the surreal time loop that prevails in this corner of Hell. He is a perpetrator and a victim in a tangent universe, not a rabid dog foaming at its teeth, and pawing off its fur.

         And that self-awareness gives him all the motivation that he will need to climb back to his bare feet. A madman cannot save anyone, not even himself in the end; but a bastard, as much as a saint, can wrestle the sharpened scythe in the dark night of the soul and compel the Grim Reaper to pursue someone else; passing on his fate to another sad sack; and presuming to view the Face of God.

         He wanders down the middle of the avenue; slow and disoriented; a lone gunfighter preparing to meet his archenemy at the fated time and place; a sick heart dripping in chunks into his bowels, as he contemplates his next move in a great unseen chess board in which he is both a moving hand and a moved pawn.

         He looks up from his thoughts in time to see the cop car break through a sheet of hail and barrel down the middle of the avenue towards him; an enemy gunfighter arriving for their fated rendezvous; an enemy that inspires his terror (and the terror of any onlookers, who respond then by slamming their windows, drawing their drapes, and crouching in corners) by scrambling its reds and blues atop its head; an enemy with black push bumper teeth shaped into a devil grin.

         There is a smash of thunder overhead that rattles the core of the earth.

And the cop car vanishes before it can reach him. He feels no relief; not even a momentary respite; since he knows that the next time they will meet up at the O.K. Corral, and he will have to do what he is contemplating in his fears.

A few minutes later, the cop car pulls out from the parking lot, contorts its face into the same devil grin, and scrambles its red and blue lights. It is very close; and so it does not barrel down on him but simply pulls up in front of him.

The fat Teddy Roosevelt in the oversized sunglasses waddles out from his cabin; his lips curling into a devilish grin; his right index finger tempting a loose trigger in his holster; his left index finger pointing out in the manner of a divine judgment; so that, for a moment, Brad wonders if he is repeating an incident in which he is surely doomed to endure the same outcome, or if he is repeating an incident in which he will be able to follow through with his contemplated plan. If the former, then he will be trapped in a loop that eternally carries him back and forth from this very spot to the pet shop a half a mile or so behind his tired back and stooped shoulders. If the latter, then there is hope still beating within his chest, a hope that he can pull her into his eternity and endure his hell fires.

Oh, Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peckers, the cop snickers, while staring at the flaccid cock in front of him and licking his lips. Or, as I should say in your case, a half a pecker. So what is it, boy? Are you out here on my avenue searching for your balls? Perhaps you want to scare old ladies; or pervert young boys; or find your Kicks on Route 66? Is that your pathetic gig, you dick deviant?

Brad tightens his grip on the flask that he is holding behind his right leg, a move that would be readily noticed by any other beat cop, but a move which is not noticed at all by a fat Teddy Roosevelt who is focusing more on assuming the posture and the tone of a schoolyard bully than on using his street smarts in this odd confrontation to disarm the dick deviant before anything else happens.

The cop scrunches his own face and leans into his victim. There is a mad grin in his eyes; a knowingmadness; and Brad wonders if somehow this cop not only knows what is going to occur next, he is inviting the dick deviant to follow through with his contemplated plan. Is this cop also stuck in his twelve minutes of eternity; forever looped from the donut shot to a mile or so down his avenue inside of his white Capri; so that his own out is a suicide mission against a nude fat man? Are we not all caught in our own twelve minutes of eternity, a twelve minutes stretched out over seventy, or eighty, or a hundred years in our minds?

Brad barely touches this philosophical question, before he unearths from somewhere his long dormant athleticism to slap the Smokey Bear hat off of the fat head with his left hand and to smash the flask repeatedly onto the same fat head with his right hand; an attack by one ghost against another in the midst of a maelstrom; but an attack, nevertheless, that leaves one of them dead on the avenue; a fat pig crouched in a puddle of blood; and the other free to continue towards the cellular phone at home and from there to the last stop destination.

There is a smash of thunder overhead that rattles the core of the earth.

Brad almost turns around to see if the cop car and the pig corpse remain where he had left them. Can death really be the ticket out of hell? Can the evil or the good man who has been condemned to one of the hell pits finally end his despair by leaping into the red flame in front of him? Or is death as repeated as life in a heaven and an earth created by and for the sick pleasure of a mad god?

He does not turn around to see. He is afraid of what the answer may be.

He returns to his home and collapses onto his living room sofa. He eyes a cellular phone on his coffee table, picks it up, stares at the tiny display window for a while, and then puts it back down again. He wants to call her, but he also knows that he has a whole lifetime to do it. He may be very much afraid of how or if she will answer, or he may be exhausted, but regardless his call to her can and will wait until he has taken one more restless nap on his corner of eternity.

*   *   *

         Brad steps into a dream the moment he shuts his eyes. It happens so fast that he is not certain that he has fallen asleep; and, as a result, he experiences the very same disorientation that had gripped his body and his mind so viciously every twelve minutes, before he had resumed his previous relationship with Old Jack Daniels. The confusion heightens the fear and transforms it into something that is visceral; an organic lump sinking to the bowels; an acidic cancer pushing aside the organs, rattling the bones, spitting up the cold and smelly sweat that then leaks out of the pores; a blind trepidation that shakes the body and erases whatever moral and intellectual restraint may persist in the subconscious mind, so that he is willing to believe and to do anything at all to avoid the existential blackness that swallows up huge men and leaves behind mute, feminine ghosts.

         And yet notwithstanding his moral and intellectual cowardice, he dreams that he is surrounded on all sides by that same existential blackness; an eternal expanse of dark matter; the last star extinguished in the universe so long ago it is impossible for him even to conceive of light, heat, space, and time; the hope squandered so completely that it is impossible for him to feel any of the primal sensations of loss or despair; so that he is a lobotomized soul bobbing about the void, desiring nothing, searching for nothing, living in death and dying to life, a man preserved for no other reason than to be a soft amusement for bored gods.

         All of a sudden the eternal expanse of dark matter is the flimsy backdrop for a digital red 4, 0, and 5, as if the entirety of the void is a display screen for a clock or a watch. And then those three red numbers flip over to a 4, 1, and 7; and then back to a 4, 0, 5; and then back to a 4, 1, and 7; back and forth; a bit faster each time, until the 4 seems to be stationary, while the rest is a strange, unsettling, digital red blur. There is no voice; no laughter; no television theme song from the fifties; nothing to distract the eye from the stark reality of these numbers; a reality underlined by that fear that is born out from a confused and desperate soul, and yet a message that is all too clear even for a haggard mind. 

         Brad awakens with an audible gasp. He could not have been sleeping too long, since he is still damp and cold from his exposure to the hailstorm, and yet he feels as if he is climbing out of a tomb that had been closed many years ago.

         He sits up. He sees the flask leaking gold liquid into the hardwood beside the sofa; and, temporarily forgetful that it will be half full again whenever the time flips from 4:17 back to 4:05, he lets out a panicked scream; really, more a squeal of a rat that has been cornered by a farmer with a hoe; and slides down to the floor to reach for the flask. He gulps what is left; not very much, since it turns out that more of the gold liquid had leaked out than he had thought; and, holding the empty flask close to his heart, crouches on the floor in between the sofa and the coffee table and braces himself for his next move in the old game.

         There is a smash of thunder overhead that rattles the walls of his home.

         A storm cloud passes overhead and momentarily submerges the universe.

         He wraps his lips around the neck of his flask. He is a baby sucking at his milk bottle, and he is a starving, acrobatic queer sucking at his own silver cock; the two images superimposed in his mind; innocence and perversion not able to be distinguished from one another in an eternal life that has been realized, and will be sustained forevermore, in the old firewater of hell; the fountain of life, pure and pristine, tipped over by grinning vandals and snaking as the gold liquid in and out of the River Styx; the Book of the Dead dropped into the dark sink by those same vandals and intermixing with the sheets of the Book of the Damned.

         He sits up on the hardwood and leans his back against the sofa. He stares down at the coffee table. It is at the level of his paunch, and so he imagines he is an infant in a highchair strapped behind his tray and crying out for his bottle.

         There is a smash of thunder overhead that rattles the walls of his home.

         A storm cloud passes overhead and momentarily submerges the universe.

         He guzzles the gold liquid. He imagines that he is back at that seedy den of thieves and whores; the old rugby clubhouse at his alma mater; guzzling gold liquid, and grinning broadly with all the charm of a sick devil boy. The whole of the universe is the inside of a spinning top, and yet he can make out all but one of the other sick devil boys; big muscle men with loopy grins marring otherwise beautiful Anglo or Germanic faces; scarred beasts with blood bubbling out from behind their broken teeth and tinkling down not so beautiful Anglo or Germanic torsos and limbs; and silly boys already reeling from creepy war wounds and old man arthritis. The only sick devil boy he cannot see is the one reaching into his crotch and squeezing his cock; the one making him squirm and smile all at once and forevermore; the one who toils for him inside a locked closet; the one who puckers his glossy lips; the one who blushes in the manner of a girl in braids; an ugly secret veiled in a cramped blackness after hours, but also a red rose alone in the meadow that is just beginning to blossom whenever there is a soft glance or an awkward nod while passing in the hallway; his Jen before Jen catches him in the stream of life; and, even now, the Jen that he thinks, hopes, will answer when he has consumed enough courage to hit the autodial on his cellular phone and to listen to whoever or whatever may be emitting sounds on the other end.

         There is a smash of thunder overhead that rattles the walls of his home.

         A storm cloud passes overhead and momentarily submerges the universe.

         He takes another swig from his flask and snatches the cellular phone off of the coffee table. He notices the timer in the upper right corner of the digital display window; a monster with the three red eyes of 4 and 0 and 5; a madness that taunts him from within the cellular phone, while he is trapped in his fears.

I’m back; the 4,0,5 beast taunts him with its ethereal Poltergeist voice.

Wanna play? The 4,0,5 beast kicks him with its direful Child’s Play voice.

It’s Howdy Doody Time! The 4,0,5 beast ends with a Howdy Doody laugh.

In a fit of rage and fear, Brad tosses his cellular phone against the sliding glass door. It breaks into two pieces; but as the digital display window does not go dark, he stumbles over to it and removes the battery with his shaking hands.

He turns back to the coffee table. His digital alarm clock is there; intact and staring back at him with its digital red eyes; a goddamn Humpty Dumpty all together again, like the broken plate in the kitchen, and like his cellular phone will be in another twelve minutes. He had not noticed it, as he had been lying on the sofa or sitting on the hardwood floor, but now it is all that is left, beside himself and his flask, in a silly mad universe that is falling ever more into itself.

And it is laughing at him. It is the Mad Hatter toasting his Very Merry Un-Birthday. It is the sick devil boy, when he unzips his crotch and pulls out a rose.

Brad covers his ears and runs for the landline telephone in the kitchen.

The digital clock over the conventional oven in there laughs at him too.

He grabs the landline and cowers beside the dishwasher. He turns on the power; his hands so shaky from liquor and fear that he drops the receiver twice onto the tile floor; and his mind so twisted that he cannot remember her phone number, no matter that he tries to say the very same numbers out loud that he has dialed a thousand times over the years. He dials what he really hopes is her number, but he ends up getting the automated operator informing him that the number has been disconnected…and then laughing at him like the Mad Hatter….

He tosses the landline against the conventional oven. He fails to break it apart, or even to break the connection, as he can hear the automated operator even still laughing at him through the receiver from the other side of the room.

He finds his flask on the floor beside him, finishes off what will remain in there for the next twelve minutes, and staggers back into the wind and the hail outside; naked and alone, except for his friend, Old Jack; and with no mind but to find her somewhere in this crazy world of his and to save her for his sad life. 

He stands in his driveway for a while, leaning forward on the hood of his Jeep Cherokee in the manner of a decorated general reviewing his soldiers, and yet seeing nothing but the 4:05 and the 4:17 flipping back and forth in his thick and waterlogged mind; his dream seeping out from his subconscious to fill in all of the gaps in his conscious mind; tying everything together; and giving him the supreme focus of thought and action that is his last connection to a sane world.

He needs to find her. She is in trouble and needs him, no, desires him, in a way that cannot be satisfied by any other man. She is in a crisis situation; not just any crisis, but the crisis that is an inevitable result of leaving her good and rightful place by his loving side; and the twelve minutes of eternity; the digital red eyed beasts, the resumption of his affair with Old Jack, the wisdom offered by his accountability man, the eternal estrangement from Angie, even the odd, and ultimately violent, encounters with the cop; is happening now for no other reason than to knock him out of his comfort zone and to pull him into her place and time, so that he may be once again that man for which she sheds her tears.

This is how he makes sense of his captivity. He simply refuses to consider that this time loop is a random and meaningless tangent off of the time avenue and that, when all is said and done, she will have no part to play in the matter.

He recalls a friend telling him that there are no atheists in foxholes. God may or may not exist; but ever since he has been stuck in his foxhole; a twelve minutes of eternity foxhole with no rifle or ration by his sides, except for a half full flask; he has been forced to admit to himself that he exists. He suffers. He fears. He teeters on the edge of despair. And, furthermore, he exists for her in a way that no other man can. And that may be as close to God as he can reach.

He starts down the residential road. He briefly considers knocking on the door of his neighbor and asking to use his telephone; but he is not very likely to be well received in the buff, no matter his broad smile and courteous tone, and his neighbor also may turn out to have a landline with a digital timer. He really does not think that he will aid his cause by tossing the landline against the wall and running back into the storm, as his neighbor observes from a safe distance.

He crosses the avenue; not looking down the street to see if the cop and the cop car are still there, lest he find out for sure if death delivers a man from his own twelve minutes of eternity; and sneaks his girth into a pay phone booth at an abandoned Union ’76 station. He is not sure if the pay phone works; to be sure, the broken glass everywhere, the spent condoms on the floor, and the old and exhausted Yellow Pages, missing everything from Dentists to Pet Groomers and flapping like a loony bird that is hanging from a string inside of a huge wind tunnel, do not bode well; but, thankfully, there turns out to be a dial tone; not easy to hear in the static; but more than sufficient for him to generate his call.

This time he has no problem in remembering her cellular phone number.

There is a smash of thunder overhead that rattles the walls of the booth.

A storm cloud passes overhead and momentarily submerges the universe.

But Jen does not pick up the phone on the other end. Instead, there is a click, a pause, and then an automated voice that tells him that if he would like to complete his call as dialed he needs to insert a dollar and twenty-five cents; a reasonable request that, under any other circumstance, he would expect; but one that, under this circumstance, inspires in him a whirlwind of rage that ends with him slamming the receiver and kicking his bare right foot into glass shards.

He grabs his foot and cries out in pain. He hobbles backward and lands in a puddle a few paces behind what is left of the pay phone booth. He covers his eyes and looks up at a booth that now shimmers in this hailstorm like a mirage.

He holds his foot until the bleeding stops. He cannot calculate how much of the twelve minutes of eternity remains; but then something catches his eye; a shadowy movement inside the Mini Mart across the street; that snaps him out from his self-defeating preoccupation with the times ticking away into eternity.

He hobbles over to the storefront window. The shadowy figure is a clerk, and he has just stepped into the backroom presumably to light up his cigarette.

Brad opens the door. It rattles a tinny bell overhead, and he clenches his teeth and freezes his step in the fear that the freckled boy in the Mini Mart cap and the red and white pinstripe Mini Mart shirt will return from his smoke break at once. He imagines the freckled boy doing a startled double take and then, as he determines that the big nudist is harmless, chuckling as if a deranged Howdy Doody and stumbling up to him in that herky-jerky manner of a doll on a string.

But nothing like that happens. Instead, Brad smells cigarette smoke from the backroom and hears the strained double cough of an inexperienced smoker.

He hurries up to the cash register. It is locked, but there are coins in the bowl on the counter. A sign taped to the bowl reads: Your Tips Make Me Smile.

He checks to make sure that the freckled boy is not returning right now, and then he scoops into the bowl, like a boy digging candy out from a store bin.

There is a smash of thunder overhead that rattles the walls of the store.

A storm cloud passes overhead and momentarily submerges the universe.

The Budweiser digital clock on the wall behind the counter flashes 4:05.

I’m back; the 4,0,5 beast taunts him with its ethereal Poltergeist voice.

Wanna play? The 4,0,5 beast kicks him with its direful Child’s Play voice.

It’s Howdy Doody Time! The 4,0,5 beast ends with a Howdy Doody laugh.

And the freckled boy with the Howdy Doody face is sitting on his stool by his cash register. He is absorbed in a magazine entitled Big Mama Tits. He grins at his own sick thought, mouths something or other about sista bitches, sets his literary masterpiece aside, turns on his stool, and faces the nude thief head on.

Brad braces himself for the worst; but, strangely, the freckled boy really does not seem to notice or to care that his next customer is in the buff. He just smiles in the unsure manner of any adolescent still trying to figure out puberty.

Howdy Ho, the freckled boy offers. Which smoke do you want to buy, sir?

Of course, that is what he presumes the big nudist wants. Why else does a customer come up to the counter without having an item in hand, unless he is there to buy a carton of smokes kept in a locked glass cabinet behind the stool?

Brad cannot say a word. He has lost his capacity to think so much that he is still reaching into the bowl, as if clueless that the freckled boy is right there, but cannot recall what he wants to steal there and for what reason he wants it.

Usually, you give me a tip after I give you your change, the freckled boy, still all smiles, says with a wink, while he is reaching for something behind him.

Brad ignores him. He is still trying to recall why his hand is in this bowl.

The freckled boy slams a baseball bat on the back of his hand; crackling the bat in two at the handle; smashing the bowl; and popping his bare knuckles flat. The barrel flips in the air several times and smashes into the glass cover of a porno pinball machine featuring big, black mamas, squeezing their milky tits, and looking back at the player with the wide, open eyes of a Big Mamie in heat.

Brad screams and recoils. He squeezes his broken right hand inside of his left armpit and slips backward on the quarters now scattered all over the floor.

The freckled boy leans over his counter and chuckles. He looks like a doll that has gone so berserk the old puppet master upstairs no longer controls him, so that he is free to wreak his gross mischief upon unsuspecting, nudist thieves.

Brad wants to pass out; not just for a while, but forever; but there is too much adrenaline in his noggin, cleaning out the mental cobwebs and giving him the purpose and the resolve that he had lacked altogether just a moment prior.

He rolls onto his knees, scoops up a bunch of quarters with his left hand, and somehow manages to stumble back to his feet, while that freckled beast is still laughing at his insipid weakness from the safety of the counter behind him.

Brad staggers back to the pay phone booth. His right hand is throbbing as the initial shock wears off, and the excruciating intensity of the pain makes the universe spin on its access. He must focus all of his mental and physical energy, which is leaking along with the blood drips from the back of his right hand, just so as to scramble back into the pay phone booth and to lean upon the receiver.

He drops the quarters onto the floor of the booth; and as he bends down to retrieve them from glass shards, he sees that the freckled beast is observing him from the front door of the Mini Mart. His attacker has lit a cigarette, but is holding it by his right side so that there is nothing to distract from his mad grin.

Brad looks away, but he remains self-conscious. He senses that the boy is his eternal judge and executioner and that no matter what he may try to do his fate has been sealed. He still needs to pick up the quarters and to make his call as soon as possible; but he is no longer motivated by a hope, so much as by the awful conviction that he has no free will in the matter and, perhaps, never did; a man sensing that he is a pawn, and desiring to return to the womb and to die; a man feeling that he is at the end of his rope and has been there all of his life.

There is a smash of thunder overhead that rattles the walls of the booth.

He dials her cellular phone number, clenches the receiver in between his neck and his right shoulder, and drops the quarters into the slot. He leans from one foot to another, as he waits an eternity for a ring to be heard in the static, and he has to remind himself to exhale that rotten breath lumped in his throat.

A storm cloud passes overhead and momentarily submerges the universe.

Hello, Phil, Jen answers on the fourth ring. So where are you right now?

Brad cringes. She is speaking to her “Philly” in that same familiar voice; a kind of sweet laziness intended to mask her Type A directness that invariably sounds more direct, and less sweet, with every passing second; that in a former life she had reserved for her rugby hunk of a husband back at their lovers’ nest. 

Jen, it’s me, Brad says in as calm a tone as he is capable at the moment.

Brad? Jen drops the sweet laziness at once. Why are you calling me now?

I know. I know, Brad whines. Listen, I am calling you from a pay phone….

Brad, we have discussed this, Jen scolds him. Every call to this number is traced. I don’t know what you’re thinking. Hell, I don’t know what I’m thinking sometimes. But if this is going to work; if we are going to work; even as friends or as something more…I don’t know…You just need to be more responsible, not for me, but for yourself. And you can begin by never calling me on this number; never ever; no matter what is stuck in your ass. Do you fucking understand me?

There’s something I need to ask you, Brad comments in a cracking voice.

There’s always later, Jen interrupts him in her cross-examination voice.

No, Jen, really, Brad whimpers, before losing his meek voice altogether.

Fucking listen, Jen snaps. I need to hang up. I need to hang up. I need….

You, Brad whispers, as if to complete the sentence that Jen had started.

And then there is the loud and sustained horn of an eighteen wheeler; an ethereal ghost moan spreading out in all directions at once and partially veiling the discordant sounds of screeching brakes and breaking glass; and, somewhere in the death mix, a wretched cry that may be an injured woman or a wind gust; a life teetering on the edge in a second that spreads into eternity and fills in all the blank spaces in a furious storm, so that taken together there is a symphonic blend of life and of lifeless nature that is hideous, deformed, and haunts every last vestige of the sane mind, until there is nothing left but a cold, gray corpse.

The connection dies, before the awful sounds give way to the inevitable, lasting silence. It is as if a sentence that is cut off midstream; a twelve minute span that is broken off from the chronological march of time; a conclusion that may be inferred, but that nevertheless has not been given a chance to play out in the real and observable world. It is as if an event that can be completed only in the mind; a horror that reaches its crescendo in the imagination; so that it is not possible to tell where a tragedy in time blends into a nightmare in eternity. 

Brad drops the receiver and clutches his throbbing forehead with his left hand (his right hand still tucked beneath his left armpit); teeters awkwardly on from one leg to another; and finally crouches onto the cold and wet ground just outside of the pay phone booth. He lets out a horrid cry; the howl of an injured animal; and stares up at the black, gurgling cloud that is indifferent to his pain.

He cannot tell how long he is down there. He hears the huge thunder roll once, twice, maybe a hundred times; the twelve minutes of eternity reduced in his mind to a singular moment of pain; the whole of the universe encapsulated, now and forevermore, in his dead stare into a vast expanse of mad nothingness, a mindless temper tantrum, a remote and cruel divinity shut up in a dark heart.

And that is where he would stay, except that his fate is stronger than his will; and so by a strange and mysterious force, he takes in several deep breaths and struggles back to his bare feet; his mind suddenly focused again, as if it has been programmed by a hand other than his own; his heart beating not from any semblance of hope, but from a vicious tenacity to finish what has been started.

He observes that the unused quarters are not scattered about the booth, since of course they would have returned to the tip bowl once that thunder had smashed and rolled in the heavens and then that 4:17 had flipped back to 4:05; time stumbling back unto itself; the present surrendering to the past; the living giving way to the ghosts; Sisyphus watching the boulder roll back to the base of the mountain and letting out his aggrieved sigh for which there is no sympathy.

He wonders how it is that he did not lose to the past the quarters he had inserted into the pay phone; how it is that he had been able to dial her number after the thunder had rattled the walls of the booth; and he thinks that it must have something to do with why his silver flask is still by his side. He keeps what he treasures. He remains what he really is. And that call is why he is still alive, notwithstanding the madness, the despair, and the desire to hide in that closet until even the sick devil boy coveting his crotch then abandons him to the dark.

He looks back at the Mini Mart. He expects that freckled beast still to be there; holding his lit cigarette by his side; grinning like a demented doll; seeing him with his black eyes and judging him in his black heart. He feels him; senses him; knows him to be there. He cannot live without his death close behind him.

And yet the freckled beast is not there. He is back at his stool; mumbling to himself while ogling the photos in Big Mama Tits; thinking that it is high time for another smoke break in the backroom, since no one is strolling in the aisles, and no one is likely to come in out of the hailstorm in the next several minutes.

Brad staggers to the storefront. He hides in the shadows. He watches the boy flip through the pages, chuckle at a sick thought in his head, grab a pack of cigarettes from beneath the counter, and step into the backroom. He finds that Budweiser digital clock on the wall behind the counter, and sees that it is 4:16.

There is no time to waste. He swings the door open; making himself step forward, in spite of the tinny bell ring that announces his entrance; and goes to the tip bowl as if it is the only item in the store. He smells the cigarette smoke wafting into the store from the backroom and thinks that he hears a sick cough.

He grabs a handful of quarters, just as that wide-eyed Howdy Doody with a lit cigarette by his side walks back into the store and coughs out a Howdy Ho.

Brad bolts for the door; hunching his head into his shoulders; and bracing himself for the baseball bat that, as expected, flies across the store and strikes his right shoulder blade. He cries out in pain but does not stop running, until he is back at the pay phone booth and shielded by glass from missile baseball bats.

There is a smash of thunder overhead that rattles the walls of the booth.

He dials her cellular phone number, clenches the receiver in between his neck and his right shoulder, and drops the quarters into the slot. He leans from one foot to another, as he waits an eternity for a ring to be heard in the static, and he has to remind himself to exhale that rotten breath lumped in his throat.

A storm cloud passes overhead and momentarily submerges the universe.

Hello, Phil, Jen answers on the fourth ring. So where are you right now?

Brad blanks out. He cannot believe that that sweet, lazy voice is back on the phone, even though that makes total sense given the logic of this time loop in which he is trapped. He stutters incoherently and starts to cry like an infant.

Phil, what is wrong? Jen inquires maternally, as she presumes that these must be the little boy tears of her “Philly” baby. Are you okay? Just talk to me.

Brad cringes. She had never been so maternal with him. But he sees that this mistaken identity gives him a real opportunity to elicit an answer from her.

He recalls hearing “Philly” talk in his sleep once, as Jen had been ending one of their late night phone calls. Most of what he had said had been gibberish baby talk, but one phrase had stood out amidst all this nonsense: Honey Bunny.

Honey Bunny, where are you? Brad asks in the wimpy manner of his rival.

Phil, is that you? Jen’s guard is up, and so she drops her sweet, lazy veil.

Of course, honey bunny, Brad sighs. Who else would call you on this line?

Yes, right, Jen hesitates. Phil, why are you crying now? Baby, talk to me.

Goddamn it, if Brad does not want to puke. But he continues regardless.

Where are you? Brad presses, while still retaining the emasculated voice.

What do you mean? Jen sounds on edge, as if fearful that he is on to her.

Everything’s fine, Brad insists. Please, tell me: Where the heck are you?

I’m on the 405 approaching LAX, Jen answers. Now, talk to me. I need….

There is the loud and sustained horn, and Brad slams the receiver down.

The Overlook, Brad remembers, as he is exiting the booth. Our Overlook.

He staggers along the same avenue in the opposite direction of the dead cop and the cop car that he had left behind; still careful not to turn around and to look backwards, lest by failing to observe any wreckage he is then compelled to determine that, indeed, even death does not deliver a man from the twelve minutes of eternity. He remembers that ignorance is bliss. Well, in his case, his capacity for bliss has been depleted by the demise of his future; but at least he can think, perhaps still hope, that somehow when he dies, he will say sayonara to this joint. That alone; more than how much Jen needs, no, desires, him just now; gives him a reason to do more with his life inside of this time loop than to lay on his blankets and feather downs and to make out with his lover, Old Jack.

And so he pushes his heavy head and his tired feet north; at first, staying on the avenue that is the most direct route from Orange County to Los Angeles, apart from the 405; and then, after experiencing several close calls with bored, suburban cops having nothing better to do in a hailstorm than to harass a nudist drunk carrying a silver flask, staying on those quaint residential streets that are of much less interest to the men in blue. He cannot tell how long the trip takes him, but he realizes with every one of his haggard steps and weak sighs that he is never more than twelve minutes away from his destination. He knows so well that his end is as near as his future is unreachable, the awareness of every man stuck in his time, the horror of every boy unable to awaken from his nightmare.

He finally ascends to the Overlook; a city park on a hill all but forgotten, except by dope heads looking to score and dick deviants looking to satisfy those lusts that they will want to forget in time; a closet in the wide open, where the four walls are not built by plaster and wood, but by eyes that dart away or look downward; a special place where collegiate blood donors can give a little more of themselves to those sick devil boys who care so much for them; a dark place that adds a shiver to the mind in later years not all that different from a sordid ghost wail; the past catching up to the present; the future appearing as remote as the Promised Land must have seemed to Moses standing on his own overlook.

From the Overlook, the dope heads and the dick deviants; shadowy beast men reclining into their stupors against jagged boulders, or pulling out their old and limp willies to find out if they can manage still to shock themselves, or just mumbling beautiful poems that never will be recorded, except upon parchment rolled and stored in minds that have been silenced by the times; can ponder all of the mad sprawl that is LAX, the air transport jets taking off and landing as if bees close to their hive, the red and white lights, flashing as if cancerous lumps that someday will beat the same hive back into the earth, and screaming out in defiance of those bees that insist upon using the hive even unto the bitter end, and the yellow bumble bee taxis carrying ant people in and out of this cauldron in a corner of Hell. In between the Overlook and the Mad Sprawl is the 405, the north to south freeway that is usually a stretch of comatose automobiles; large, lumbering trucks and rice burner sedans in the process of giving up their ghosts to the sick devil who is behind the bumper to bumper congestion in Los Angeles and who offers no more recompense than the downgraded American Dollar; and an overpass that snakes in and out of the 405 through a mad maze of junctions; an engineering feat that from the vantage point of the Overlook resembles gray spaghetti that has been vomited all over the floor; an intertwining mishmash of roads and ramps that may make sense to a committee somewhere, but that has about as much charm in it as a mess that must be cleaned before guests arrive.

Brad leans against the railing at the top of the hill. He looks out over the 405 and sees that the traffic is not moving at all. Frankly, this is not at all what he had expected as a result of hearing the discordant screeches and screams on the telephone, and he wonders for a moment if his memory of the conversation has been affected by his own mental and emotional anguish. Perhaps there had never been an accident. Perhaps she had just hung up on him and is sitting now in the mess of traffic that is so typical of a late afternoon in the City of Angels.

But then he looks again, and he observes the eighteen wheeler smashed; a huge, metal beast fallen on its side and veiled by a cloud of exhaust; and two or three sedans collapsed into accordions against the concrete median; a snake charm of smoke slithering up from a flame; an ambulance siren in the distance.

There is a smash of thunder overhead that rattles the core of the earth.

A storm cloud passes overhead and momentarily submerges the universe.

The wreckage vanishes; not even a trace remaining of the smoke and the ambulance siren; and the large, lumbering trucks and rice burner sedans are on the move. There is nothing out of the ordinary for some time; ten seconds pass, then thirty, every moment passing as a stocky weed that has to be individually, and painstakingly, pulled out from the syrupy gunk; and then there is that same eighteen wheeler; a white trailer with Girls Gone Wild and an outline of kissing lesbian nymphs on the side; rattling down a ramp from the overpass to the 405; its speed obviously too fast for the hailstorm conditions, so that its huge trailer is already tilting precariously to the left even before it merges into the freeway below. The truck blares its loud horn in an apparent attempt to warn whatever may be in its path, and then it falls to its side and screeches a quarter of a mile or so down the middle lane of the 405. Several sedans; two or three, perhaps a few more, he cannot tell in the blur of action; blast out from beneath the large overpass, slam on their brakes, slide to the left on the black ice, and crash one car at a time into the concrete median. A few quiet seconds pass; and then one more car slides into the back of one of the other smashed sedans; enduring just a nasty fender bender that is nothing in comparison to the total wreckage of all the others involved in the sick melee; before the remaining cars grind to a halt.

Brad sees the LAX clock tower directly over the accident. It flashes 4:05.

I’m back; the 4,0,5 beast taunts him with its ethereal Poltergeist voice.

Wanna play? The 4,0,5 beast kicks him with its direful Child’s Play voice.

It’s Howdy Doody Time! The 4,0,5 beast ends with a Howdy Doody laugh.

Brad stares at the wreck. He is helpless; stunned; momentarily unable to conceive what he can or should do next; and so no more than a mindless wound himself leaning over the railing and thinking that it may be best to fall over the edge and to crack his head open on the huge boulders at the bottom of the hill.

And then he remembers his silver flask; Old Jack Daniels, rubbing against his left thigh, and whispering sweet words into his left ear; and he swallows the half full flask of divinity with a backward tilt of his neck and a resounding burp.

He is left alone in a universe spinning on its axis; but, at least, he breaks out from the spell cast by the wreckage below his eyes. He is able to collect his tired and confused thoughts in the dispassionate and logical manner of an adult man; an affectation of wisdom that sets his heart at ease; and a renewed focus that then sets into motion the plan of action for which he has been drawn here.

He cannot tell from this distance how many sedans have been involved in the accident, let alone identify their model and color. He knows that her silver Audi, the same color as his flask, must be a part of the melee. If her Audi is not involved in the melee, then he had imagined the last segment of the phone call that they had shared, and he had been pulled into this time loop for no reason.

And that is the kind of self-delusional madness he will not admit. It does not matter truly that the universe is tilting on its left side and screeching down the middle lane. It must make sense. It must be setting up a plan of action that he then will be freed to pursue or to deny. It must be where finally he matters.

And so her Audi must be down there; smashed into a pretzel of steel and fire; engulfed in that intense heat that will strangle the mind and burn the skin off of the lady attorney buckled inside; and consumed in the death of old scrap parts and stale oil puddles. It must be there, since he is whimpering right here, a man driven into his fate, a boy afraid that he will not be allowed to go home.

But there is no harm in observing the accident more closely; even to the point of picking out the Audi from the rest of the crowd and fancying that that one car crash is all that matters in the universe; and to that end he remembers that there is an elderly, Korean shopkeeper in this vicinity who sells binoculars.

Brad staggers down from the Overlook. It is very difficult to walk straight when the universe is spinning on its axis; but he is careful to clamp the flask in between his left arm and his torso, to clamp his swollen right hand inside of his left armpit, and to read the storefront signs until he finds the one for Mr. Park, a spectacled, gruff, no-nonsense proprietor who has stashed a rifle behind each of his cash registers in order then to scare or to shoot the fucking gomdoongies, as he refers to the black gangbangers who stroll in packs into his neighborhood.

Mr. Park has closed his shop early. His glass door has been triple bolted.

Brad picks up a loose brick. He tosses it up and down in his left hand like a pitcher thinking about what his next pitch should be. He thinks for a while, as he is dimly aware that, if and when he breaks the window, he will be crossing a definite threshold from which he will never be allowed to return in his lifetime.

Even killing the fat Teddy Roosevelt, and seeing his pig body writhing on the mud and hail strewn avenue, is not as much of a blue line threshold for him as this brick toss will turn out to be. Perhaps it is because he had killed the cop as an act of self-defense, while this brick toss will put him in the same grouping as the fucking gomdoongies who howl as if hyenas in the blackness of the night. Perhaps he will have shred his last hold on decency, a tenuous grasp with which to begin, but with just enough of the skins in his fingers to sooth his mad heart with the notion that his feet are planted in the tribe of the white and the good.

And then he remembers the sick devil boy getting down to his knees and unzipping his trousers. The sick devil boy has the freckled fuck face of a smiling Howdy Doody. The sick devil boy licks his thin lips and looks up at him hungrily, an oral deviant for his dick deviant, an image turning up with the dirty pennies, a memory or a fantasy incompatible with the tribe of the white and the good in which he has held his head high, a horse lips beastie munching away at his soul.

His heart sinks, and he tosses the brick low and off to the side. He wants to shatter the entire glass door and to watch with a loopy grin on his face as all the sparkling pebbles and shards burst inward like an imploding supernova; but, in fact, he manages nothing more than a small, jagged hole near the doorknob.

He sighs and reaches through the small, jagged hole with his good hand.

There is a smash of thunder overhead that rattles the core of the earth.

A storm cloud passes overhead and momentarily submerges the universe.

And the small, jagged hole vanishes. In its place is the pane of glass that has not yet been smashed by a brick; a pane of glass so taut and complete that it does not shiver in the wind and the hail like his sliding glass door back home; a pane of glass that cuts through three of his fingers at his knuckles, and shaves the top of his pinky, so that there are flesh stubs on the floor on the other side.

He recoils what is left of his left hand. He is too stunned to comprehend.

And then he observes thick, red goo gurgling out from the open mouth at the top of his cut fingers; a warm glug not unlike the half eaten beef that a sad drunk will vomit onto the floor in the middle of the night; a crimson semen spit slithering down his hand, as the sick devil boy chuckles stupidly near his crotch.

He is too drunk to feel much of the pain that is now electrifying his mind and his flesh. He senses nausea in his bowels. He senses that the tilted universe is spinning a lot faster than before. But he senses nothing that may jolt him out from his disorientation and despair and renew his mental focus in this situation.

His silver flask falls to the ground; and, as he stares dumbfounded at the gold liquid gurgling out from the open top, his heart sinks into the lowest pit of helplessness. His intimate love, Old Jack Daniels, is only a few feet beneath his blank gaze; and yet, as both of his hands are incapacitated, it is unreachable in his twelve minutes of eternity; a ghost that vanishes just as he extends a hand, or in his case a bleeding finger stub; a memory of that foggy womb in which he had been protected from the madness, a womb that has been invaded by a fate that does not play favorites among the overripe fetuses caught into her spell, a womb that has been stabbed and drained, until it is no more than placenta skin cast aside and trod underfoot. And so the end of love is loss; the wellspring of a misery that will not be quenched; and then it is the halfhearted sigh of a ghost, a grey shadow, that can no longer escape into hopes, and loves, and fairy tales.

And in the single tear that he sheds, he sees her buckled inside of one of the collapsed accordions. She is delirious in her pain; her acute awareness that life is seeping out from her like air from a punctured balloon; and urging him in her bleeding eyes and gaping lips to open her door and to unbuckle her seatbelt before the snake charm smoke coils about her throat. He is as near to her as he is now to his silver flask; standing beside her driver side door window; retaining a blankness in his eyes that makes her wonder if he is not some sort of prop set up at the scene by a wise ass devil. He finally lifts his incapacitated hands; and with a weak shrug and a downcast eye, he indicates that he is as powerless now to save her as he has been from his first breath. And so he stares at a blister on his right foot, until he can hear the ambulance siren, and feel the thunder slap, and see her eyelids shut for the last time and her face freeze into eternal fears unmentionable. And then he strolls away from her; unmoved, as he is too weak even to care; and yet tortured by his own demise, as he is too weak to retrieve his old lover from its sidewalk grave and to be at rest in the dreams of a drunk.

He would have stayed there forever; staring at that silver flask through a pair of blank eyes; observing how the gold liquid escapes like old man piss from a beaten penis, and then escapes all over again twelve minutes later, and so on into eternity; continuing to watch even after the blood streaming down his left hand transforms him from a dead man walking into a ghost man wailing; except that the inane chuckle of the sick devil boy still crouching beside his crotch has unearthed whatever odd bits of shame and pride stab at the valves of his heart.

He kicks at that sick devil boy; a cantankerous, old man with insane eyes mumbling something or other about the insolence of youth, and jutting his bare right foot into the air several times; but he succeeds only in spreading the idiot chuckle from the air in front of his crotch to the air all around him. He is being bombarded by idiot chuckles: Mr. Park’s storefront is laughing at him; the silver flask is snickering at him; the sidewalk is a rolling belly chuckle; even that faint ambulance siren that he hears every twelve minutes is a more of a crazy whoop than a morose wail, a slush lush preparing to pull up her hoop skirt at a party, a saucy girl at the children’s dinner table who is able to blow milk from her nose.

He runs toward the 405; screaming pathetically; clamping what is left of his left hand over his left ear, but managing only to smear dirty blood over that side of his face; and seeing the sick devil boy’s Howdy Doody face grinning back at him from within every storefront window; hubcap; traffic light; the one good eye of a drenched street dog; even the spectacles of an old lady looking back in his direction and then hobbling away from him. He is the plague running around in a circle, a circle with a six-minute long diameter, so that he is always ending on the twelfth minute where he had started. And for a while he is the rage; the death curse for every bit of life on which he tramples; but then he is just a silly nuisance; the death curse neutered by a vaccine; not able to instill ghost white skins and shivering lips, so much as loony chuckles and gay snickers in response.

He collapses by the side of the 405; a shriveled, blood soaked madman in appearance and in demeanor much like the street derelicts who scurry about as drunk rats in and out of the shadows besides freeways; an insipid howl at a fate that just does not give a damn what he feels about her. He lies there, listening to the discordant sounds of the melee repeat themselves every twelve minutes, and imagining how she melts in the red flame, while buckled inside of her Audi.

There is a smash of thunder overhead that rattles the core of the earth.

A storm cloud passes overhead and momentarily submerges the universe.

Sensing that if he does not get up right now he will die on the side of the 405, he struggles back to his feet, tucks his chin into his neck, and runs like the mad bull that he is into the blur of traffic. He barely misses an oncoming car in the slow lane and then braces himself to be a hulking, bloodied obstacle in the middle lane; his back to the overpass that is an eighth of a mile behind him; his ears catching the horn of the eighteen-wheeler, as his eyes remain glued to the automobiles barreling down at him. He tenses every muscle in his beaten body; preparing as best he can for the pain that even gold liquid cannot numb; but all of the sedans that would have been smashed up against the concrete median in another second or two swerve early into the fast lane, in order to avoid the sad sack of shit in their lane, and miss altogether the overturned eighteen-wheeler.

He turns around to see if any one of those sedans had been the Audi, but they have moved on before he can identify them. Only that big Girls Gone Wild truck can be seen ahead of the overpass; its battered trailer a ghost white bulk in a veil of exhaust fumes; its debris the remains of a battle sifting in the wind.

He turns back in time to make out what would have been the final sedan to slam into the melee. It is the one that would have suffered no more damage than a nasty fender bender. It is the one whose driver would have been able to walk away with no more than a few scratches, or perhaps a sad bit of whiplash, an afternoon changer, no doubt, but far from the Four Horsemen in the Clouds.

It is squawking its little car horn at him, but he cannot hear it amidst the wind and the hail. It is trying to brake, but he cannot see how the black ice has stolen the traction from the old tires. It is going to hit him, but he cannot care.

All he cares about at that moment is if he can make out the straight line of four overlapping rings; the time loops emblem of the Audi; and if at that last split second he can make out her eyes staring into his own. And at that moment he will see how much she needs him, no, desires him, in the existential fullness of twelve minutes of eternity collapsed into a single spot in chronological time.

He sees something; perhaps the time loops emblem; perhaps the leaping Jaguar; or perhaps the Mercedes-Benz Star; really, just a silly twinkle in a blur; the kind that confuses more than it reveals; the emblem of a sick devil boy car.

And then he is sprawled on his back; encased in paralyzing pain, like the neck spasm spreading at once to the rest of his body; and then disoriented, like mind is swimming with the bowels in the topsy-turvy seas of a hangover in Hell.

He has no sense of time. He may be sprawled on his back a brief moment or an eternity. He only knows that, when he looks back at the LAX clock tower, and sees that it is 4:17, he begins to drown in a sea of serenity that carries him into the blackness, the womb in the earth, where finally he feels nothing at all.

*   *   *

There is a smash of thunder overhead that rattles the core of the earth.

A storm cloud passes overhead and momentarily submerges the universe.

Sensing that if he does not get up right now he will die on the side of the 405, he struggles back to his feet, tucks his chin into his neck, and runs like the mad bull that he is into the blur of traffic. He is anxious to do this right; but he need not be, since there are plenty of opportunities to do things right in twelve minutes of eternity; countless times to die; and just as many to be resurrected.

And it is no matter, because she needs him, no, desires him, in eternity.  

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Published by Michael Sean Erickson

I write, act, and produce films in Los Angeles. Everything else is conjecture.

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